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How to manage and reduce absenteeism

Joe Wedgwood | 8th February 2019

We all miss work days from time to time. We’re human after all! However, if employees don’t think work attendance is important, your culture isn’t right or they’re not engaged – they may tend to take advantage of being absent. When this happens, the cost to you and your company is great. By focussing on initiatives and strategies to reduce your absenteeism rates, you will be rewarded with a happy workforce and a healthy balance sheet.

What is meant by the term employee absenteeism?

Before we address the cost of absenteeism, let’s focus on the correct terminology used to identify it. Whilst most of us think we know what absenteeism is, it’s advisable to have the official definitions so there’s no ambiguity.

It falls into two categories:

  • Planned Absenteeism: Long-term absences, annual leave and other time paid off, vacation leave, staff/workforce development leave, government service leave, routine and other planned medical treatment.
  • Unplanned Absenteeism: Unplanned/emergency absences, short-term absences (not otherwise planned).

Now we know what it is, let’s assess how costly high absenteeism rates are for your business:

The cost of UK absenteeism

According to CIPD,  UK employers can expect to pay at least £500 per member of staff annually. This comes as no surprise! According to the Office for National Statistics, “137 million working days were lost because of sickness or injury in the UK.” This is the equivalent of 4.3 days per worker. For mental health-related absences alone, businesses in the UK can expect to pay up to £8.4 billion a year.

The Department of Public Expenditure’s research on 250,000 workers in Ireland revealed that each full-time Civil Service employee took used 10.2 working days for absences. This equates to roughly €569.64 per year… per employee.

There are also other consequential costs of employee absenteeism that are not financial, but still affect profitability:

  • Low employee morale.
  • Management frustration.
  • Staff disengagement.
  • Negative customer feedback.
  • More employee overtime and workload.
  • Lack of cultural alignment.

Managing employee absenteeism strategies

It’s evident that absenteeism is both prevalent and costly in today’s working climate. It’s important to focus on the best approaches to combat short-term and long-term absences immediately. This will free up time for you to focus on strategy and innovation.

Let’s examine some effective prevention strategies:

Implement flexible working and encourage time off.

Now I know it may seem counter-intuitive to encourage people to be out of the office if you want to reduce absences but trust me it’s not! Flexible working is no longer considered a luxury… it’s a necessity. The same goes for annual leave.  By promoting flexibility and encouraging everyone to use all their holidays you will reduce stress and burnout and promote a healthier work-life balance. Everyone will enjoy their work more. They will have a work-life blend where work and “play” complement each other and they can create schedules that work for them. Whilst they may be in the office less, they will certainly still be working and there will be fewer absences due to sickness, stress or fake illness!

Create a pleasant working environment:

A carefully designed office will attract and retain staff, improve efficiency through productivity and lower absenteeism rates. A good starting point is creating an ergonomic work environment that will relieve stress, improve posture and increase performance. Ergonomic work environments decrease musculoskeletal health issues that can be catalysts for poor health. Ultimately this leads to absenteeism. When you add in proper lighting, adjustable desks and ergonomic workstations – your staff are sure to appreciate the reduced stress on their eyes and other body parts. All amenities, furnishings and furniture should encourage relaxation and facilitate collaboration and productivity.

It’s important to create an environment that aligns with the work you do. For example, if you work in the health business, then ensure you provide healthy food and you encourage your people to exercise. Failure to do this can result in you compromising your brand and sending mixed messages.

Demonstrate that you care:

People will inevitably have life issues that prevent them from attending work. You can show support by implementing Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) that offer referral services. The idea is to help out workers with emotional, psychological and physical needs. EAPs are an effective way to communicate to employees that their health is paramount.

When done effectively, EAPs are highly beneficial. You will create a healthier and happier workforce.  Your business will have an effective resource for dealing with complex absences. You will retain employees who may have a nonwork-related issue that can be resolved or managed with effective intervention. All of which will noticeably improve your absenteeism rates and create a healthier and happier company.

Communicate regularly:

We all have frustrations from time to time. Failure to put an effective system in place to help you understand and remedy these concerns can result in a loss of productivity. The aftermath is an increase in absenteeism. To effectively communicate with your team, you can implement a system so everyone can contact you and create an open dialogue.

Live your values: 

It’s so important to lead by example. If you want your people to put in the effort and put in a shift either at the office or at the comfort of their home then you must do the same. Your behaviours will influence everyone else and will be replicated throughout the company. So make sure you are living your company values and working the right way for your business.

You can’t afford to ignore absenteeism

You can have the best business model and the most innovative product – but you won’t be a success if you’re staff don’t show up… Managing absenteeism highlights that you run a professional business with high standards of employee performance. This encompasses employee attendance. The cost of employee absences far outweigh the costs of the preventive measures.