Poor leadership, a cause of absenteeism

Workplace absenteeism is often seen a clear indicator of how a company treats its staff. A part of workplace absenteeism is directly or indirectly caused by the leadership style of the manager. When managers neglect aspects like security, and they increase work related stress, this can encourage workplace absenteeism.

In the following, I will demonstrate what a manager can do to keep an employee in his or her personal strength. To do so, I will use several basic principles of the functioning of the brain. I will also tackle the issue of stress management, so that stress related absenteeism can be reduced.

Pain network instead of reward network

The brain has a great number of networks. Crucial networks are the pain network versus the reward network. People who are in the pain network are merely surviving. Much of the brain power is used to survive, to find ways of ‘coping’ with the manager. When people are in their pain network, their performance is poor, and a number of these people will easily call in sick. In addition to the pain network, there is the reward network. When someone is in the reward network, he or she feels safe, is more flexible and will use his or her brain power for the work they are hired to do. They will call in sick much less often.

How can you introduce someone to the reward network?

It is important to ensure that people are in the reward network. By the way, in this context, reward does not imply a financial reward. It is a general misconception that through financial rewards staff members will easily enter the reward network. Research shows that this has no basis.

The best method to introduce people to the reward network is offering them a combination of security and space. Too much control engenders insecurity, and insecurity starts the production of stress hormones. Consequently, managers should balance their urge to control. You can create a secure atmosphere by being truthful to people, treating them as equals, remaining positive, valuing people and finally, showing an open and happy face. Furthermore, people should be given space. That’s why coaching leadership is so important. With coaching leadership, managers can focus on results obtained in good synergy with several echelons. Coaching leadership provides space and well-defined expectations. I like to compare it to playing a soccer match. A soccer match should of course be won (the result) however, the execution of the game is based on observance of rules and the tactics of the coach (organisational echelons).

Handling stress

I feel it is important that executive staff arrange for their employees to learn how to (better) handle stress. If people enter their pain network, they react with stress. Stress is a way the brain uses to cope with so-called insecure situations. I use the term ‘so-called’ very consciously because who is to say that such situations are really insecure? It is not the insecurity that you will experience when you are the victim of a robbery or when you come face to face with a bear. Some work situations are insecure for some, but secure for others, one person will become stressed and the other won’t.

Stress and the brain

When you understand your brain, it’s easier to learn how to handle stress. The stress response starts in the brain. When the amygdala, a small centre in the brain, experiences stress, a signal is transmitted to the hypothalamus, the control centre of the brain. Then, the hypothalamus puts the body in the stress mode, causing increased heart beat and breathing. We are ready to face danger. When this happens time and again, this will become your default reaction. Stress will wear you out, demotivate you and result in feelings of unrest and poor concentration.

Stress management

Stress management based on knowledge of the brain starts with recognizing your stress and then learning new behaviour from your internal leader, your “growth mind-set”. You can read more about stress management in my blog “Reduce your work-related stress by using your brain optimally.”


Managers play a vital role in the wellbeing of employees. Fortunately, it is quite easy to provide for this wellbeing. It starts with a proper understanding of the brain. Greater wellbeing results in less workplace absenteeism. So it really is partly the responsibility of the manager.


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