The impact of employee absenteeism in the workplace
Struggling with employee absenteeism in the workplace?
Absenteeism In the Workplace
Over the last decade or so, the term ‘absenteeism’ has become a buzzword in the HR industry. While some employers are aware of what it actually means, many aren’t.
It relates to an employees’ unauthorised absences from work.
Although individual instances of absence from work may not seem like a big deal, it’s been proven to impact the productivity of your staff as well as your bottom line when ignored.
This article will define absenteeism and the cost to the UK economy, highlight some of its causes and explore some options for reducing it in your workplace.
What is absenteeism?
The definition of employee absenteeism is when a member of staff is frequently absent from work without a valid reason.
According to research carried out in the UK, sickness-related absences are said to cost businesses upwards of £29 billion every year.
In the same year, research from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) estimated over 137 million working days were lost as a result of ill health and injuries.
Absences from work in the EU was a record high in the first quarter of 2020 with a sharp drop in hours worked, due to Covid.
So, of course, it’s normal for your staff to go through periods of absence from work as a result of ill health and other personal issues from time to time.
But it can start to become a problem when these absences are unauthorised.
It can also turn out to be frequent and unwarranted.
When you notice these types of absences, it’s important to try to contact the offending employee as soon as possible. Start out with a friendly chat to try to discover what’s up.
If the employee is unable to provide a valid reason for their repeated absence you might consider taking disciplinary action against them.
The effects of absenteeism
Before you can look to reducing absenteeism in the workplace, it’s important to understand what causes it.
Some of it’s most common causes include:
Illness: Sickness-related absences can increase at certain periods especially during the winter months when cold and flu viruses are widespread.
Bereavement: Understandably, when an employee is dealing with a death in the family work is the last thing they’ll be thinking about. They’ll need some time off work to grieve. This period may be even longer when the death is sudden.
Stress: When an employee experiences increased levels of stress, they’re likely to avoid situations that could exacerbate it. This includes the working environment. The same applies when they’re experiencing burnout as it leads to disengagement from their work.
Morale: The morale of your staff determines their level of engagement and productivity. Picking up the slack for a colleague who repeatedly misses work, isn’t very engaging. When morale is low, your staff are more likely to lack motivation and feel underappreciated.
Harassment: Similar to stress, when an employee is being harassed or bullied at work, they’re likely to take steps to remove themselves from that situation and is includes staying away from the work environment.
Carers: It’s not uncommon for some employees to be the sole care provider for members of their family. In some instances, they may even need to take extended periods off work to care for them.
Tips for reducing absences
Once you understand what causes absenteeism you can then consider steps you can take to reduce the rate.
Because each business is different, you should have your own set of policies that highlights what you’d consider acceptable and unacceptable reasons for absences.
The document should make clear what you expect of your team members.
It should also inform them of the process for reporting absences.
This document should also inform them of their pay entitlements when they’re absent from work.
Other elements to incorporate in your absence policy include:
- When to get a sick note.
- The duration of absence before a return to work discussion would be held.
- Information on ‘keep in touch days’ (for long-term absences).
- How much sickness pay they’ll get and how long for.
It’s worth noting, there are various employment laws covering absences, sick notes and statutory sick pay.
It’s important to keep these in mind when creating your absence policy. This way you can avoid being taken to an employment tribunal.
Once this policy is in place, you could also consider taking action using workplace wellness programmes. They’ve become hugely popular over the years.
These initiatives can help to reduce absences by contributing to create a healthy workforce. They also offer staff members the tools they need to make this happen.
And you can then cross-check employee morale with absenteeism in the workplace.
Other tips to deal with employee attendance include:
There are various causes of stress in and out of work. While there is less you can do to control their stresses out of work, you can make that their working environment is as stress-free as possible. For example, fixing broken equipment, providing realistic KPIs, giving job flexibility and anatomy, good leadership skills, prioritize mental health among workers, etc.
Frequent and constructive feedback is important to keep your staff engaged. You shouldn’t just reserve this for when there’s a problem. Offering feedback for a job well down shows your staff that you care and appreciate their efforts. Use weekly meetings for informal conversations. How are people doing at work with COVID challenges, etc?
Feedback works both ways. Just like you’d want to inform your employees when they’re doing something right (or wrong) it’s important for them to feel that they’re able to do the same. Keep the employee survey simple.
Employee assistance programmes:
EAPs are a common benefit offered to employees. It’s an effective way to combat stress, depression and anxiety-related illnesses. With offerings spanning from critical incident management to counselling and online portal, these programmes aim to address the problems (professional or personal) that might affect their work performance.
To conclude, absenteeism in the workplace, while not being the worst problem a business can face has the potential to lead to larger and more expensive issues.
In order to elevate the impact of unauthorised absences to the work environment and your bottom line, good leaders make sure they understand the reason for these absences.
And provide adequate support to get their people back to full form.
Alan Price is Chief Operations Officer of the Peninsula Group. Alan also holds a number of non-executive positions across the Group companies, while maintaining a Group operational overview and Group HR responsibilities.
He is a Chartered Fellow of the CIPD with 18 years’ experience in employee relations.
Photo by Adrian Swancar