Absenteeism refers to unscheduled absences from work. Such absences are costly to companies because of their unpredictable nature, affecting a manager’s ability to Control the firm’s or department’s budget.
When an employee has an unscheduled absence from work, companies struggle to find replacement workers at the last minute. This may involve hiring contingent workers, having other employees work overtime, or scrambling to cover for an absent coworker.
The cost of absenteeism to organizations is estimated at $74 billion. According to a Mercer Human Resource consulting study, 15% of the money spent on payroll is related to absenteeism.
What causes absenteeism? First, we need to look at the type of absenteeism. Some absenteeism is unavoidable and is related to health reasons. For example, reasons such as acute or serious illness, lower back pain, migraines, accidents one may have on or off the job, or acute stress are important reasons for absenteeism.
Health-related absenteeism is costly, but it would be unreasonable and unfair to institute organizational policies penalizing it. When an employee has a contagious illness, showing up at work will infect coworkers and will not be productive. If the illness is not contagious, it is still in the organization’s best interest for the employee to receive proper medical treatment and rest to promote a full recovery.
Indeed, companies are finding that programs aimed at keeping workers healthy are effective in dealing with this type of absenteeism. Companies using wellness programs, educating employees about proper nutrition, helping them exercise, and rewarding them for healthy habits have reported reduced absenteeism.
Work/life balance is another common reason for absences. Staying home to care for a sick family member, attending the wedding or funeral of a loved one, and skipping work to study for an exam are all common reasons for unscheduled absences. Companies may deal with these by giving employees more flexibility in work hours.
If employees can manage their own time, they are less likely to be absent. Conversely, when a company has “sick leave” but no other leave for social and family obligations, they may fake being sick and use their “sick leave.” One solution is to have a single paid time off policy that would allow workers to balance work and life and allow companies to avoid unscheduled absences.
Organizations such as Lahey Clinic at Burlington, Massachusetts, have found this to be effective in dealing with unscheduled absences. Some companies such as IBM got rid of sick leave altogether and instead allow employees to take as much time off as they need, so long as the work gets done.
Sometimes, absenteeism is a form of work withdrawal and a step followed by turnover. In other words, poor work attitudes lead to absenteeism. When employees are dissatisfied with their work or have low organizational commitment, they are likely to be absent more often. Thus, absenteeism is caused by the desire to avoid an unpleasant work environment. In this case, management may deal with absenteeism by investigating the causes of dissatisfaction and dealing with them.
Are there personal factors contributing to absenteeism? Research does not reveal a consistent link between personality and absenteeism, but there is one demographic criterion that predicts absenteeism: age. Interestingly, and against some stereotypes that increased age would bring more health problems, research shows that age is negatively related to both frequency and duration of absenteeism. That is, younger workers are the ones more likely to be absent. Because of reasons that include higher loyalty to their company and a stronger work ethic, older employees are less likely be absent from work.