By increasing the overall cost of labour, absenteeism accounts for part of the high prices of commodities and services. People may be absent from the workplace for a variety of reasons ranging from holidays or illness to attending football matches and so on. The word 'absenteeism' is used to describe absence when an employee is normally expected to attend for work and therefore excludes holidays and strikes. The main type of absenteeism is that attributed to incapacity (illness or injury), and this usually accounts for not less than three-quarters and often almost all industrial absenteeism. The attribution to incapacity may be supported by a medical certificate, depending upon local rules or social insurance regulations. Voluntary absenteeism rates are affected by working conditions and motivation. On an individual basis, emotional adjustment is a factor; those with problems, in or out of the workplace, tend to greater absence. There is also a variation with age and sex.
In most organizations about half the time lost is caused by 10% or less of the workforce. Beyond this, statistics are difficult to elaborate owing to enormous varieties of absences and definitions. However, if 1,600 hours represented the desired output of work of every employee annually, and 80 paid hours are lost in absent days and part-days (equivalent to 10 days a year), one could estimate the effect if this immediately translated into a 5% increase in prices (as a result of a 5% loss in productive output) or a 5% decrease in profit per employee (as a result of increased labour overhead). In a 1985 survey, by the Industrial Society concluded that absenteeism cost the UK economy 200 million working days a year (including bona fide illness and non-attendance). The figure was confirmed by a 1992 study as representing 4% of working days lost per year (although there was a questionable difference between the 3.87% for private sector workers compared to the 4.57 for public sector workers, and between those operated by UK companies as opposed to those operated in the UK by Japanese companies). The average adult worker took 5 days "sick" per year, a figure outnumbering strike days by 400 to one. The cost to the economy was estimated at £13 billion. Absentee rates among skilled manual workers in the UK runs about 10%, 9% for semi-skilled, 12% among 16-17 years olds and at least 8% in all blue collar industry groups except construction. In Sweden, on a typical day, 25% of workers are absent (of these 10% are sick). Estimates in 1993 for absenteeism in other countries included: 1.25% in Italy, 1.9% in Greece and 0.5% in Greece.