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Absenteeism: how to tackle this workplace threat

Jazmin Lopez

An organisation embracing absence management can mitigate the negative effects of absenteeism. Smart policies and tools like HR software can and will control absenteeism risks. And, in doing so, improve employee care and welfare. Our article takes you through the basics of absenteeism. Then, shares policies to help you manage absenteeism.

Absenteeism in the workplace is at an all-time low in the UK. Despite the decline, employees are still absent from work some 5.9 days per year according to the CIPD. Employee absences cost the UK billions every year.

What is absenteeism?

In simple terms, absenteeism arises when an employee is absent regularly for no apparent good reason.

Many organisations, though not all, have some sort of absence management plan in place to reduce excessive absenteeism rates. One can't expect life's unexpected moments but we may yet find patterns why employees call in sick regularly. These patterns become clear with the right tools.

How to calculate absenteeism?

The formula to calculate absenteeism is simple. Take the number of unexcused absences in a given period of time, divide it by the total period, and multiply the result by 100 to get the percentage of absenteeism over a month, a year of leave, or semester.

The absenteeism formula

((# of unexcused absences)/ total period) x 100 = % of absenteeism

There's no set percentage or number that indicates when absenteeism is excessive. Zero, would be the perfect score, but some absenteeism is acceptable in a company with more than a few employees.

What makes the real difference, is separating unexcused absences from justified ones. Sure, both affect productivity, but unjustified absences are the most detrimental to your company, and the ones you'll be able to prevent and control more successfully.

An absence management software provides a solution to control absences. The tool is a fantastic opportunity to digitise HR tasks. With digitisation comes benefits in mitigating negatives of absenteeism explored in this post.

Let's now dig into absenteeism and how HR professionals are managing it.

What are the main causes of absenteeism?

Minor illnesses are the most common reason for absenteeism:

  • Colds and flu
  • Upset stomach
  • Headaches
  • Bullying and harassment

Other issues causing absences are:

  • Stress
  • Musculoskeletal injuries
  • Mental health illnesses
  • Long term medical conditions
  • Child or elder care 

Plus several other personal and non-medical instances. These vary by sectors but are generally consistent across the public workforce.

Why is absenteeism a problem?

The financial impact of absenteeism include:

  • Paid wages for the time off
  • Replacement work or workers
  • Administrative costs

Reduced productivity and lost time from micromanaging may add to the problem. Safety may become a problem if a key role is not present. And, workplace morale can see a drop, too. 

Resonating effects are present with each absent employee, too. Low-quality work may pass onward to customers and clients. This may harm the brand and its prospects in the long-run

How can absence management reduce absenteeism?

Absence management provides two immediate and clear benefits:

  • Reduce operational costs
  • Improve employee welfare

HR can improve policies and programs with absence data collected in the HR software. The absence data forms a baseline and lets the organisation find ways to reduce costs. HR may also discover absenteeism trends by tracking absences to further improve absence management programs and policies.

Absence management introduces many solutions such as:

  • Return-to-work support
  • Assessment services
  • Coordination and management

...and more to which you'll discover when exploring HR software.

Absence management solutions deter absenteeism before it becomes habitual. It reduces operational and secondary costs. Plus, provides a better experience and sense of well-being for employees.

Now, here's how to amplify the benefits of absence management software and resources.

How to reduce absenteeism in the workplace?

Absenteeism may not seem problematic in the beginning. A small workforce mixed with life's unexpected moments sees people taking time off. The problem with absenteeism begins when regular absence from work becomes a pattern.

How can you best use absence management to mitigate absenteeism? Consider taking the following steps. 

1. Explore flexible schedules and remote work

Absenteeism becomes less of a problem when companies empower employees with flexible schedules. More specific is the introduction of remote work.
Benefits of remote work are well-documented:

  • Increased employee retention and reduced stress
  • Improved output and workplace productivity

Telecommuting can reduce unscheduled absences. This is because many absences are often for personal reasons (not sick days). Remote work removes much of the reasoning why people may take a day off.

2. Introduce a return-to-work interview routine

Even a day or two off can offset an employee returning to work. A lot may change during that time. Introducing a program akin to onboarding process eases them back into their role. This return-to-work interview may reduce absenteeism:

  • Show the company cares for their well-being by checking on them
  • Understand the reason for the absence and discuss details of a fit note
  • Explain how they can improve and potential disciplinary actions
  • Make the necessary arrangements as they return to work
  • One could use absence management tools to automate these processes.

3. Improve employee and workplace well-being

Happy employees are those excited for work. A company providing for physical and mental well-being will see a productive workforce. The improved well-being means fewer sick days and reasons for calling out.

“Line managers are usually the first port of call on health and well-being issues within their team, and make day-to-day decisions about work allocation and staffing arrangements.” Dr Jill Miller.

A company hub offers a way to manage employee participation in wellness programs. The tool would offer better communication with the team and in meeting their needs.

4. Provide balance, rewards, and recognition

An organisation should offer a reward program for regular attendance.

Excellent staff management begins by recognising the good work done by employees. One should explore improving employee satisfaction as a way to encourage being present.

5. Set disciplinary procedures and consequences

An organisation should do one of two things:

  • Set trigger mechanisms to review attendance using a time and attendance system
  • Conduct disciplinary or capability procedures for absences

The choice between these two depends on your operation and workforce.

Trigger mechanisms to launch reviews could include too many doctor's notes. This should alert managers they need to step in and explain company resources and policies. And, if needed, outline the actions they'll take if absenteeism continues.

If absenteeism continue then disciplinary action happens. Dismissal may prove appropriate for habitual offenders.

6. Use robust absence management tools

Spend less time in the employee data and more time with the employee. After all, you're working with people trying to find a work/life balance, not robots.

Absence management tools let managers and HR software offer data-driven evaluations. This provides a better feedback loop vs outlining or reprimanding off-the-cuff.

Absence management is critical for productivity

A business without absence management will find operations in chaos. The workplace and its drive dwindle due to illness and the like. It's important, as an HR manager, to rein in before it's out of control.

Is absenteeism breaking down operations? Are you having trouble communicating work roles and requirements? Are you lacking the tools and resources for effective absence management? Let kiwiHR help!

kiwiHR includes crucial time and attendance tracking and people system tools. And, extensive oversight and control over time off management. Explore the features of our HR software and start reducing absenteeism in your company, today.


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