Absenteeism is expensive, as seen in estimates that absenteeism nationally costs $505 per employee per year.49 Being absent from work may seem like a small matter to an employee. But if a manager needs 12 people in a unit to get the work done, and 4 of the 12 are absent most of the time, the unit’s work will probably not get done, or additional workers will have to be hired. Nationally, 7.2 days per employee are lost to absenteeism each year.
TYPES OF ABSENTEEISM - Employees can be absent from work for several reasons. Clearly, some absenteeism is unavoidable. People do get sick and have family issues such as sick children that make it impossible for them to attend work. This is usually referred to as involuntary absenteeism. However, much absenteeism is avoidable; it is called voluntary absenteeism. Often, a relatively small number of individuals in the workplace are responsible for a disproportionate share of the total absenteeism in an organization.
Because illness, death in the family, and other personal reasons for absences
are unavoidable and understandable, many employers have sick-leave policies
that allow employees a certain number of paid absent days per year. Absenteeism tends to be highest in governmental agencies, utilities, and manufacturing firms. Absenteeism is lowest in retail/wholesale firms, possibly because those industries use a large percentage of part-time workers.
MEASURING ABSENTEEISM - Controlling or reducing absenteeism must begin with continuous monitoring of the absenteeism statistics in work units. Such monitoring helps managers pinpoint employees who are frequently absent and the departments that have excessive absenteeism.
CONTROLLING ABSENTEEISM - Controlling voluntary absenteeism is easier if managers understand its causes more clearly. However, there are a variety of thoughts on reducing voluntary absenteeism. Organizational policies on absenteeism should be stated clearly in an employee handbook and stressed by supervisors and managers. The policies and rules an organization uses to govern absenteeism may provide a clue to the effectiveness of its control. Studies indicate that absence rates are highly related to the policies used to control absenteeism.
Absenteeism control options fall into three categories: (1) discipline, (2) positive reinforcement, and (3) a combination of both. A brief look at each follows.
-Disciplinary approach: Many employers use a disciplinary approach. People who are absent the first time receive an oral warning, but subsequent absences
bring written warnings, suspension, and finally dismissal.
-Positive reinforcement: Positive reinforcement includes such methods as giving employees cash, recognition, time off, or other rewards for meeting attendance standards. Offering rewards for good attendance, giving bonuses for missing fewer than a certain number of days, and “buying back” unused sick
leave are all positive methods of reducing absenteeism.
-Combination approach: Combination approaches ideally reward desired behaviors and punish undesired behaviors. One of the most effective absenteeism control methods is to provide paid sick-leave banks for employees to use up to some level. Once that level is exhausted, then the employees may face the loss of some pay if they miss additional work unless they have major illnesses in which long-term disability insurance coverage would begin.
Another method is known as a “no-fault” absenteeism policy. Here, the reasons
for absences do not matter, but the employees must manage their time rather
than having managers make decisions about excused and unexcused absences.
Once absenteeism exceeds normal limits, then disciplinary action up to and including termination of employment can occur.
Some firms have extended their policies to provide a paid time-off (PTO) program in which vacation time, holidays, and sick leave for each employee are combined into a PTO account. Employees use days from their accounts at their
discretion for illness, personal time, or vacation. If employees run out of days in their accounts, then they are not paid for any additional days missed. The PTO programs generally have reduced absenteeism, particularly one-day absences, but overall, time away from work often increases because employees use all of “their” time off by taking unused days as vacation days.