Employee absenteeism

The Cost of Absenteeism and the Reasons For It

What Is Absenteeism?

Absenteeism is a concept that is often misunderstood in American businesses, but it takes a toll throughout an organization. First, absenteeism is often confused with attendance. The two are different from one another.

Absenteeism is a term that indicates that is a chronic pattern of an employee missing work. That doesn’t mean something unexpected comes up every once and awhile. Absenteeism is more about an employee who habitually misses work. Absenteeism doesn’t include excused absences where the employee has asked for and received approval to miss work.

Most employers do have policies that allow for paid leave and unpaid leave that’s excused in particular situations. However, in the U.S. employers are not required by federal law to provide paid time off, unless it falls under the umbrella of the Family and Medical Leave Act. When an employee is seeking an excused absence from work, they may be required to provide documentation to their employer.

Occasional absences are usually outlined in employee policies. For example, most companies will offer a set number of days that an employee can take off, and many employers are moving in the direction of not even needing to know why an employee is taking off, as long as they’re within their limit.

For example, employees can use these flexible days for personal reasons, or as vacation. Some employers, on the other hand, provide paid time off only for sick days that can be proven with documentation.

Absenteeism is expensive. It costs businesses, employees and the company as a whole. Unless an employee is specifically protected by something like a contract or a union membership, they can be fired for excessive absenteeism.

Another relevant term that falls under the umbrella of absences and absenteeism are called partial shift absences. A partial shift absence covers when an employee is late, takes more breaks than usual, or leaves early.

The Cost of Absenteeism

Absenteeism can create both direct and indirect costs. Direct costs are related to what’s lost in terms of productivity because an employee isn’t at work on a certain day. These direct costs can also include bringing someone in to replace an employee.

Indirect costs can be related to the overall productivity of an organization. For example, if an employee has chronic absenteeism, other employees may have to take over their duties. That then diminishes the productivity of those employees.

Other costs of absenteeism can be related to turnover if an employee is fired as a result of missing work.

According to Kaiser Permanente, productivity losses related to absences cost $1,685 per employee per year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that productivity losses due to employee absenteeism costs a total of $225.8 billion each year in the U.S. alone. A Circadian publication called “Absenteeism: The Bottom-Line Killer” puts unscheduled absenteeism costs at around $3,600 per year for hourly workers and $2,650 for salaried employees. These costs are related to the wages that are paid to employees even when they’re not there, the cost of replacement workers, and the overall administrative costs associated with managing absent employees.

They also name some other specific, indirect costs. For example, there can be safety issues that arise because employees are rushing or trying to fill in for absent employees even if they might not have the necessary skills. There can be a reduction in the quality of good or services provided when a business is understaffed, and employee morale may decline when they feel like they constantly have to cover for absentee employees.

There’s also a loss of productivity time for managers, as they’re working on trying to find replacements and ensure work gets done, while also having to handle discipline for employees who demonstrate absenteeism.

These effects are often more impactful within small businesses because one employee makes up a significant percentage of the overall workforce. In many small companies one employee has a pivotal and significant role, and if they’re regularly missing work, it can be devastating.

Common Causes of Absenteeism

Our next post will focus on how to curb absenteeism and deal with it through strategies like implementing an attendance management system, but understanding some of the root causes can be helpful. The following are some of the most frequent reasons an employee might not just be missing an occasional day of work, but instead showing signs of chronic absenteeism:

  • Workplace bullying or poor corporate culture is often a top reason people miss Workplace bullying has been shown to cost employers 18 million work days a year. A toxic culture at work makes it difficult not just to show up, but to feel motivated and productive once there. Even if blatant bullying may not be happening, if an employee doesn’t feel comfortable they may not show up to work.
  • Tremendous demands are often put on employees. We’re also in the age of constant contact, so people are always getting emails and messages from their employer, even during what’s supposed to be their time off. Employees start to feel stressed out, fatigued and burned out.
  • Childcare is a huge reason for absenteeism. If a person uses a babysitter or a family member for childcare, and that person becomes ill or unavailable, the employee may have to miss work.
  • Chronic health conditions are another reason employees miss work. For example, depression, anxiety, migraines and back pain are all health reasons that are commonly reported by people who miss work.
  • Untrained employees may be less likely to come to work. When employees aren’t appropriately trained, they tend to feel more apprehensive about certain tasks, and they may miss work because they don’t feel comfortable with the work they’re going to be doing on a particular day.

Our next post will focus on how to enforce employee attendance policies and reduce absenteeism. There are ways to reduce people who miss work, and they’re not all necessarily related to firing people or even discipline, although these are options that have to be utilized in some cases.

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