There are a few simple truths about absenteeism.

The first is that almost all employers suffer a substantial loss of productivity because employees are absent from work. Unplanned absence due to family issues, workplace injuries, and non-work-related injuries and illness can add up to as much as a 10 percent productivity loss for some employers. A recent survey on absenteeism by CCH found that “…unscheduled absences cost companies $660 per employee per year, up from $610 in 2004, in salary costs alone—never mind the expense of paying for overtime or a temporary replacement.” What’s more, the study found that personal illness accounts for just 35 percent of unscheduled absences.

The second important fact is that trying to control absenteeism can be a daunting task. Lost work days fall into many different categories: They may be due to family and medical leave, workers’ comp injuries, and non-work injuries and illnesses. These varying types of absences fall under different programs, insurance coverage, and legal umbrellas. Employers that operate in multiple states have the added burden of dealing with a variety of local regulations. And typically, in many organizations, the responsibility for managing lost time is split among different departments. FMLA and short-term disability is usually turfed to HR, while workers comp falls to financial people or safety officers.

You wind up with nobody looking after the whole problem, and nobody knowing exactly how much the bucket is leaking.

Plugging the absenteeism leaks

There are four best practice principles that can help. If your organization hasn’t adopted them, you may want to consider doing it now.

First, get a lost time measurement tool. There are several vendors who offer sophisticated absence management information systems for very large organizations.  For small to mid-size employers, an Excel spreadsheet can work just fine. The important thing is to begin tracking absences. A weekly report citing who’s out, for how long, and why, circulated to your senior managers can go a long way toward focusing management attention on the problem.

Second, make sure that prevention is given top priority. For organizations with recurring risks of injury, there should be a safety program that is actively led by top management. There are certain safety practices that can have a beneficial effect on non-work injuries, too, such as driving safety programs.

Third, have an active return-to-work program. Employers should have temporary modified duty programs for every employee with a lost-time due injury, whether work-related or not. We often see modified duty resistance from managers who mistakenly insist on “having all employees at 100% functionality.” The facts overwhelmingly indicate that these programs reduce comp and disability costs, improve productivity, and foster faster recovery for employees.

Finally, use your EAP to help reduce absenteeism and lost time. The reasons for absence can often be mitigated. Whether the absence involves a young mother who needs help locating child care, an injured worker who is becoming depressed over not being fully active, or someone with a family or personal problem that results in missed work days, there is a solution. A good EAP program can provide solutions that will help to reduce life disruptions that cause absence.

Having an overall absence management program will pay big productivity dividends. Equally importantly, it can improve morale by helping your workers to stay healthy and safe, maintain personal productivity, and preserve income.


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