Absenteeism Definition: What is Absenteeism?
Absenteeism is what happens when an employee begins to chronically miss work. Absenteeism is expensive to employers, bosses and co-workers and can cost repeat offenders their job. But while absenteeism is often perceived as an employee issue, newer research reveals it can also be a symptom of a much larger employer-based issue.
In this post, learn more about abseentism, including the many reasons why it happens and what can be done to remedy the situation.
Why Absenteeism Occurs
Contrary to old school beliefs, absenteeism typically does not occur because the employer has hired poorly. While there is the occasional lazy or unprincipled employee in any workforce, for the most part, the lure of pay and benefits will keep employees showing up to work regularly.
Rather, it is in that place where even pay cannot compensate for work conditions that absenteeism is often discovered.
Here are some of the most common reasons why employees begin to be chronically absent from work:
– Harassment. If an employee is being singled out by co-workers or a supervisor in a way that is perceived as bullying or harassing, that employee is more likely to engage in absenteeism.
– Chronic illness. Issues as diverse as allergies and cancer can take a toll on an employee’s energy level and ability to perform well at work. But by far the most common health reasons for abseentism center on ergonomic issues such as hand, back and neck pain (to the tune of 100 million work days annually).
– Lack of motivation. An employee stuck in a boring job – or even an interesting job that is overly challenging – can easily slide into dis-engagement and then into absenteeism.
– Stress. High stress in the workplace is a major cause of absenteeism (not surprisingly, stress and chronic health issues are now known to be linked). Stress can take the form of burnout, lack of motivation and other work-averse conditions.
– Family issues. This can be an especially prominent cause of absenteeism in households where both parents work. If the parents are shift-workers, the possibility of absenteeism rises still further as caregivers struggle to supervise children or elders living under their roof.
– Job interviews. While less of a long-term cause of absenteeism, employees that begin to become chronically absent or late due to job interviews disguised as “traffic jams” or “illness” are often soon gone for good as well.
– Depression. Depression is still the reigning cause of absenteeism in the American workforce today. Yale researchers report that depression (whether work-related or not) makes an employee twice as likely to miss work.
Other More Subtle Forms of Absenteeism
Just because an employee does show up for work doesn’t mean absenteeism isn’t still taking place on a subtler level.
Here are some examples of how an employee can begin to settle into absenteeism in a less detectable manner:
– Breaks. Taking long and frequent breaks that slowly get longer and more frequent amounts to a form of absenteeism.
– Lateness. Chronically arriving to work late and leaving early is another milder but (often) no less intentional form of absenteeism.
– Lower productivity. An employee that begins to produce less and less for the same hours worked is giving off warning signs of early absenteeism tendencies.
The Costs of Absenteeism
It might be surprising to learn that absenteeism among hourly workers is actually more costly to the average employer than the same among salaried workers.
The Workforce Institute reports:
– Hourly workers. Costs an estimated $3,600 per worker per employer per year.
– Salaried workers. Costs an estimated $2,650 per worker per employer per year.
With unscheduled absenteeism reaching levels where 1 in every 10 employees is absent on any given day, the costs to employers can reach anywhere from 3.2 to 7.5 percent of payroll annually.
As well, the toll on employees who are present can be significant. Their burden is increased when co-workers are chronically absent, which causes stress rates to rise and, with that, the risk of additional absenteeism.
How to Reduce Absenteeism
Part of the reason absenteeism is now being called “the bottom line killer” in management circles is because, to date, it is still surprisingly difficult to track and quantify.
Part of the reason it is so difficult to track absenteeism even with today’s sophisticated workforce software tools is because it can be hard to decide what is true absenteeism and what is not.
One way to determine which is which is to begin implementing new techniques to cut down on absenteeism and see which employees are most responsive.
Here are some ideas employers are beginning to use with some success in reducing (if not curing) absenteeism among their staff:
– Providing incentives. Providing incentives to show up at work is one newly popular way employers are trying to reduce absenteeism. Incentives may be as varied as extra vacation days, free gift cards, preferred parking spaces and more.
– Providing mandatory paid sick leave days. Offering paid sick leave is a good way to tell which employees are really sick when they are absent. It can also reduce genuine absences when a sick co-worker comes to work and contagious germs are passed around the office.
– Workplace wellness programs. There is some research that shows employers who assist employees with maintaining better health and fitness can also cut absenteeism in their workforce. Not only can wellness education teach employees how to stay healthier, but it can also communicate that an employer values their staff enough to invest in their wellbeing.
– Vacation-friendly corporate culture. In today’s often uncertain economic times, employees can feel reluctant to take a vacation and still feel sure their job will be there on the other side. But this can lead to absenteeism when workers burn out on the job. Encouraging employees to take their vacation days can lower absenteeism rates and also make employees feel more valued.
– Track attendance. While this can backfire if used in an overly punitive way, it can also help employers with earlier identification of potential chronically late or absent workers. This provides a chance to fix the issue(s) causing the absenteeism before it becomes even more costly.
The Big Payoff from Lower Absenteeism
Employers and employees alike stand to gain in multiple ways when absenteeism rates among staff members begins to decrease.
With a workforce that shows up on time and ready to work, productivity increases. Work deadlines are met on time. Co-workers experience less stress when everyone on the team is present to pull their weight. Supervisors also enjoy lower stress when managing a reliable, trustworthy and productive team.
Best of all, the company’s bottom line itself enjoys greater stability, which then rewards every employee in the company with a steady paycheck in a very unsteady economic time.