1.2.9 Absenteeism

Absenteeism is the failure of employees to report for work when they are scheduled to work. Employees who are away from work on recognised holidays, vacations, or approved leaves of absence would not be included.

Absenteeism costs the SA economy around R12 -16 billion per annum.

  • On average 15 – 30% of staff could be absent on any given day.
  • 2 out of 3 employees who fail to show up for work are not physically ill.
  • Sleep disorders are ranked “top cause of lost work time!”
  • One day’s absence can cost a company 3 days’ worth of salary without active management of absenteeism

There is a clear link between:

employee health → productivity → absenteeism

Absenteeism in the workplace is probably one of the most difficult areas of employee discipline to control.

This is usually because the problem is seldom properly monitored – supervisors ignore it on the basis that the employee will not be paid for the day anyway, so it is his own fault.  Problems of lost production, other workers getting upset because they have to pick up the workload of the absent employee, and so on are not even thought of by the supervisor. The pay office or wages department do not even notice it – they are only concerned with compiling pay slips for hours worked.  Absenteeism or the reasons for it are not their concern.

Causes of Absenteeism

The causes of absenteeism are many and include:

  • Serious accidents and illness
  • Low morale
  • Poor working conditions
  • Boredom on the job
  • Lack of job satisfaction
  • Inadequate leadership and poor supervision
  • Personal problems (financial, marital, substance abuse, childcare eldercare etc.)
  • Poor physical fitness
  • Inadequate nutrition
  • Transportation problems
  • Stress
  • Excessive workload
  • Employee discontent

Trends in Absenteeism

Surveys indicate the following generalities in absenteeism:

  • The higher the rate of pay and the greater the length of service of the employee, the fewer the absences
  • As an organisation grows, there is a tendency towards higher rates of absenteeism
  • Women are absent more frequently than men
  • Single employees are absent more frequently than married employees
  • Younger employees are absent more frequently than older employees
  • Older employees are absent for longer periods of time than younger employees
  • Unionised organisations have higher absenteeism rates than non-unionised organisations

Absenteeism Management

The definition, causes, and effects on productivity, and costs of absenteeism are quite clear. The challenge is to develop methods that support attendance and control absenteeism, in such a way as not to create mistrust, costly administrative procedures and systems avoidance. Traditional methods of absenteeism control exclusively utilising disciplinary procedures have proven to be ineffective. It is almost impossible to create a fair disciplinary procedure, because even well run disciplinary systems, which treat similar actions with consistent repercussions, are usually seen as unfair. This perception is common, because discipline alone neither identifies nor addresses the root causes of absenteeism. Every employee who takes time off in defiance of company regulations has reasons, which they believe justifies their actions. Unless a management attendance program identifies and addresses the causes of employee absenteeism, it will be ineffective and viewed as unfair. Traditional disciplinary programs alone can, at best, give the illusion of control. It is no secret that there are ways to beat even the best systems. The fear of discipline often only increases the desire to avoid management systems.

If absenteeism is to be controlled, the physical and emotional needs of employees must be addressed. In a 1985 study on “Rates of Absence among Nurses” it was found that 50% of absenteeism could be controlled through attending to employees’ physical and emotional needs.

It is essential that all employers should have a Company Attendance Policy in place. By having a properly constituted policy communicated to the employee, awareness is created that attendance is carefully monitored and that unauthorised absenteeism or absenteeism without good reason will not be tolerated. The policy should state as a minimum, that all employees must be aware that proper attendance at work is a basic common-law duty of every employee and that when an employee accepts employment with the company, he or she acknowledges that attendance at work will be daily as required, and attendance will be for the contractual working hours.

The policy should state that management monitors employee’s attendance records on a regular basis and that any employee who absents himself without a valid and acceptable reason shall be guilty of an offense in terms of the Company Disciplinary Code, which may result in dismissal.

  • Measuring and recording absenteeism data means nothing… UNLESS you understand, monitor and actively intervene
  • It is what you know and understand about absenteeism drivers that lead to sensible and sustainable initiatives