Managing absenteeism is a constant struggle for employers. While physical and mental illnesses are an inevitable part of life in the workplace, there are many proactive tools that employers can utilize in an effort to first understand then minimize employee absenteeism and, ultimately, the impact it has on the company.
In a 2013 report from Forbes, absenteeism is defined as “an employee’s intentional or habitual absence from work”. This report listed several causes of absenteeism, including illness or injury (which is the most commonly reported reason for missing work), bullying and harassment in the workplace, stress, childcare or eldercare issues, disengagement (which can then lead to presenteeism), missing work to look for other work, and depression. The latter, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, is the leading cause of absenteeism in the United States. Depression is also a leading cause of substance abuse, which can then become yet another contributing factor to employee absenteeism.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, productivity losses that are linked to employee absenteeism are estimated to cost U.S. employers an alarming $225.8 billion annually. This figure was further broken down in a recent report from the Integrated Business Institute, stating that poor employee health is costing employers more money than the combined revenues of Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Netflix, eBay and Adobe combined. The Institute reports the financial loss, from an estimated 893 million missed days from work each year due to illness and chronic conditions, and another 527 million days due to impaired performance due to those illnesses, equals $530 billion. And that is in addition to the $880 billion that employers already invest in American healthcare benefits.
As we previously reported in our Blog, depression is the leading cause of employee absenteeism in North America. Chronic illnesses, an ageing workforce, and factors like stress, fatigue and addiction issues are also significant contributing factors.
What far too many employers fail to realize, however, is that once someone returns to work who has been on leave, whether short or long term, a return to work program must be utilized in order to avoid possible presenteeism – when an employee is physically at work but not psychologically present – which can only further compound the affects from that employee being physically absent in the first place. As stated above, employers are estimated to miss 527 million days of employee productivity due to impaired performance once these employees return to work. This is not something to ignore.
According to a study from Morneau Sheppel, the largest provider of integrated absence management solutions in Canada, more than half of workplace absences are not directly related to illness. These absences are far more frequent when the workplace does not support employee well-being through programs like an Employee Wellness Program. This same study found that lacking support for mental well-being in the workplace can predict presenteeism, in addition to non-illness related absence.
Understanding employee attendance patterns is a critical first step in managing this issue. It is imperative that employers track and report employee attendance, address the factors that are causing employees to miss time from work, including illness-related as well as non-illness related absences, and then form a plan to assist employees through these workplace barriers, guide them through returning to work and providing resources and encouragement to keep employees engaged at work.
Humanity, a U.S. based company who manage on-line employee scheduling software, recently published a Complete Guide to Absence Management, in which they suggest several strategies for combating absenteeism. These include flexible scheduling, working from home and return to work practices.
One of the most proactive, beneficial and cost-effective things you can do as an employer, to manage employee absenteeism, is to make a workplace wellness program part of your company culture. Before starting your workplace wellness program, be sure to read our Blog post here for tips on how to choose what program strategy is best for you. And learn how to create your own award-winning workplace wellness program here. By ensuring your employees are well taken care of, you are investing in the financial future of your company.