Is Absenteeism An Employee Problem Or A Cultural One?

Each year businesses lose over $3,600 per employee to absence. Whether it comes down to the flu, lunch breaks that are just that bit too long, or the time honoured tradition of “chucking a sickie to go to the tennis” absenteeism adds up. With absenteeism rising 7% since 2010 understanding and counteracting the reasons staff are absent is crucial to organisational culture and ongoing success.

What Is Absenteeism?

Absenteeism is the intentional or habitual absence from work. While, in some forms, planned absenteeism can have positive long-term impacts on productivity and staff outcomes (like planned holiday, long-service or maternity leave), absences become problematic when there are many within a team, or taken by an individual. Frequent or widespread sick leave, or the practice of taking sick days for reasons other than illness are costing businesses dearly, and often have underlying causes that can be addressed at both the employee and cultural level.

How Is It Impacting Businesses?

Excessive absenteeism isn’t just costing businesses minor productivity losses and sick pay. The impacts are far-reaching and include:

  – Replacement staff costs: spent where the staff member’s shift needs to be covered

  – HR time spent replacing staff: the loss of productivity from HR employees distracted from other tasks to replace absent staff.  

  – Lowered productivity of other staff managing absent staff workloads: teammates of staff who aren’t replaced can’t focus fully on their own tasks

  – Lost revenue due to lowered productivity: missed deadlines, missed sales etc

  – Conflict between absent staff, their teammates and management: staff covering absences may grow resentful of often absent staff

What Are The Top Causes?

The top causes of excessive absenteeism are directly related to the health and well-being of employees and their families. They include:

  – Illness: Genuine sick days range in average among industry – with the highest at 11.5 days in hospitality and tourism.

  – Bullying: Bullying costs employers 18 million days work every year. This includes people taking leave to avoid their harasser or to deal with the stress of being bullied.

  – Burnout: Staff are overworked and fatigued or they’re overwhelmed by stress that comes with unrealistic expectations or demands.

  – Family Care: Employees stay home to care for children or elderly parents when they are sick or their care arrangements fall through.

Luckily, workplace culture can have direct impacts on the health and well-being of employees and their ability to cope with family responsibilities – so businesses have the power to address the causes of absenteeism, and get staff loving coming to work.

How Is Culture Related To Absenteeism?  

Although the resulting decision to miss work does sit with each employee, many causes of absenteeism are interrelated and tie back directly to cultural outcomes. By implementing initiatives that improve company culture, businesses can begin to impact the root causes of absenteeism.

For example, studies show that chronic or frequent illness can be related to poor office lighting, inadequate climate control, frequent stress, as well as a culture that promotes “pushing through illness”  and sees contagious staff present and spreading their germs. In this way, aspects of the culture – both the behaviours and the physical environment – can contribute to the physical and mental symptoms that see staff stay home from work. 

Equally, cultures with limited flexibility in their working arrangements will likely see more absences. Low flexibility can lead to overwork and burnout or cause situations where the only solution to family care issues is to miss work days. With a more flexible culture, staff can continue work at home when they or a child is ill, or when they are overworked and need the sleep-in that working from home might allow.

A culture of flexibility is also more able to identify and address issues of capacity and bring in on-demand workers to assist with demand. In this way, they can get the work done, while also avoiding the productivity losses that come when overworked staff take the day off.

Understanding absenteeism as a symptom of cultural inadequacies rather than an inadequacy of the employee can directly impact your productivity and staffing outcomes. Addressing the culture can remove or alleviate many of the reasons staff choose to miss work. 

What’s Next? 

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