Content prepared by the Sloan Center on Aging & Work at Boston College

Researchers have looked at the relationship between workplace flexibility and absenteeism. While many studies have found that the availability of flexible schedules has been associated with reductions in absenteeism, other studies have found no difference or even an increase in absenteeism among employees with access to flexible options. (93)

Work strain has been argued to be a significant cause of absenteeism in the popular and academic press. However, definitive evidence for associations between absenteeism and strain is currently lacking. A theory-focused meta-analysis of 275 effects from 153 studies revealed positive but small associations between absenteeism and work strain. (30)

Caregiving needs have been shown to be related to absenteeism. According to the 2003 Eldercare Survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), "62% of HR professionals reported their organization has seen partial day absenteeism as a result of employees who need to care for an older relative, and 59% have seen full day absenteeism." (15) Similarly, a 2010 MetLife survey found that "employees with eldercare responsibilities were more likely to report missed days of work. This was driven by the much higher absenteeism among younger caregiving employees, ages 18 to 39. Overall, 9% of non-caregivers missed at least one day of work over the past two weeks because of health issues compared to 10% of caregivers." (64) Flexible work options allow employees to respond to caregiving needs in consultation with their supervisors, rather than through unscheduled absenteeism. Health problems are the most frequent cause of absence from work. (33) However, many employees do not have access to paid sick leave. One report indicates that only 39% of low-wage and—income employees have any paid sick days and 61% have none. With no sick leave, these workers often come to work sick; this practice is referred to as "presenteeism." The sick employee works at a reduced capacity while spreading the sickness to other employees, resulting in an overall loss of business productivity. (8) Work strain or stress also contributes significantly to business productivity loss due to presenteeism, a situation where employees are too stressed at work to be effective. Workplace flexibility, however, can enhance employee productivity by reducing employee stress. (24)


A study tracked absenteeism in two subunits of a large public utility company where one of the subunits adopted a flexibility program on a one-year basis, while the other did not. All subjects studied were essentially nontechnical, white-collar workers in a service-oriented business. The results showed that the subunit with flexibility experienced a significant reduction in employee absenteeism compared with the other subunit where the absentee rate remained the same. (28)