Summer not only brings days of sun and fun – it can also exacerbate an issue that plagues workplaces far and wide: chronic absenteeism. Employees may search for ways to beat the traffic to summer destinations such as music festivals, beaches, golf courses and amusement parks by ditching work for a day (or two or three).
But not all absences are attributable to nice weather or summer holidays. In fact, many absences result from other factors, such as stress, family commitments, illness or simple disengagement.
The ultimate cost of employee absences can be quite high. An average shift worker’s excessive absences cost US companies about $2,660 each year, according to a recent report. For a company with roughly 500 shift workers, the final costs rise to $1.3 million.
Fortunately, employers can take five simple, concrete steps to reduce overall absenteeism and address its causes.
1. Audit Your Workplace Policies for Flexibility
Workplaces that implement policies that allow employees some flexibility will reap the rewards in terms of increased productivity. Flexible work arrangements allow for an employee to tend to extracurricular, personal demands (such as childcare responsibilities or doctor’s appointments) while having the opportunity to get a full day’s worth of work done.
As a bonus, these types of common-sense policies can reduce stress and promote goodwill between management and the rank-and-file.
2. Promote a Welcoming, Fair Work Environment
Some employees fail to show up for work because of fears of bullying or harassment. Others may have filed a sexual harassment complaint and are concerned that they’ll be retaliated against in some way. An employer needs to do everything it can to ensure that employees believe they will be in a welcoming environment once they come to work – and to make that belief a reality.
Ensuring that the workplace is a fair one is a multi-step process:
- Employers must ensure the corporate culture supports integrity and fairness;
- Complaint processing procedures should offer employees avenues to report any good-faith concerns related to fraud or illegal activity;
- HR must ensure that employees are consistently and appropriately disciplined for violations of workplace policies; and
- Supervisors must identify instances of bullying, harassment or retaliation and act on those incidents in a timely manner.
3. Encourage Workplace Wellness
Employee health and wellness can be invaluable in reducing absenteeism and health care costs. A 2011 Gallup survey found the cost of absenteeism and lost productivity due to obesity and other chronic health conditions to be $153 billion annually. According to the US Department of Labor, about 3.5 million workers missed work in January 2015 due to an illness, injury or medical appointment. In addition, worker absences tend to increase due to seasonal illnesses, such as the prevalence of flu from December through March.
Although absenteeism costs are high, employers must also absorb other costs if employees are ill or unwell. Presenteeism may be just as costly for employers as absenteeism. Presenteeism occurs when an employee is technically in attendance, but fails to be productive due to illness. Of course, a sick employee may also run the risk of infecting co-workers, which would then compound any overall productivity shortfall.
An employer should implement voluntary wellness initiatives to encourage employee health and all of its benefits, including:
- Reduced health care costs;
- Higher morale;
- Increased productivity; and, of course,
- Reduced absenteeism.
4. Promote Safety
Workplace safety should be a priority for any employer that wishes to protect its bottom line. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, estimates of US employer payments for direct workers’ compensation alone hover at approximately $1 billion per week. In addition, workplace injuries and fatalities yield a complex web of direct and indirect costs that may be difficult to quantify.
For this reason, a prudent employer will always promote a safe workplace – and follow up with specific employee training on how to achieve this goal.
5. Focus on Engagement
Although discipline can be a necessary response to an employee’s absence from work, tackling attendance problems can rely on more lenient measures, such as coaching or additional training on workplace policies.
Countering an employee’s tardiness or absence with a recognition that the employee is a necessary member of the team whose presence is valued at work, coupled with a delegation of increased responsibility on a particular project, may prove valuable to increasing that employee’s engagement. If an employee is appreciated and feels good about coming to work every day, then high productivity will follow.
- Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.