HR Managers Tasked with Addressing Employee Absences

It’s Monday morning. It’s cold outside. You can’t find anything to wear. Do you call in sick to work?

If you work in Human Resources, you may think twice, especially if managing employee absenteeism is among your responsibilities. But what if it’s Monday, it’s cold outside, you have nothing to wear, and there’s a bear (real or imaginary) in your yard?

Employee absenteeism rates among the widespread workplace problems employers and human resources professionals face. Excessive absences can affect productivity and company morale: No one appreciates having to pick up extra work because their co-workers are always calling in sick.

Especially when they aren’t necessarily ill.

Legitimate illnesses account for most absences, but some studies suggest less than a third of work absences are related to sickness, according to

New data from CareerBuilder, in partnership with The Harris Poll, suggests about 40% of American workers have called in sick in the past 12 months even though they weren’t sick at all, an increase from 35% in 2016. The survey found that 30% reported a doctor’s appointment as the No.1 reason to take off, even if they weren’t sick. The runner up was “just didn’t feel like going to work,” cited by 23% of respondents, followed by a need for relaxation, catching up on sleep, errands, housework, and spending time with friends and family.

The CareerBuilder/Harris Poll survey found that about three in five respondents felt they needed to come up with an excuse for taking a day off, even when their paid time off (PTO) policy at work included vacation and personal days. And they may have gotten creative with those excuses. Employers reported some of their most questionable call-ins from their people:

  • A bear roaming in the yard
  • A dog swallowing the employee’s car keys
  • Calling in “fat” because an employee’s uniform didn’t fit

Employee Absences can be Costly for Companies

According to a report from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), the direct cost of total time off was 8.1% of payroll with about 3.2% attributed to paid sick time in 2013. Annual costs related to lost productivity due to absenteeism in 2017 totaled $84 billion in the U.S., according to a post on ADP’s Spark blog.

But indirect costs have an impact as well. Replacement workers may be less productive, coworkers may slow down when burdened with additional tasks, and supervisors may become less productive in the process. Absenteeism can also cause workers and supervisors to work overtime, which may entitle them to additional pay; the SHRM report found organizations used overtime to cover 47% of employee absences.

Absenteeism also affects employees. According to a Human Resources Inc. blog post, staff resentment, workflow disruption, poor performance and hindered professional growth for chronically absent employees can take a toll on organizations. When employees are allowed chronic absences without consequence, their coworkers take note. They may feel slighted and/or see it as an opportunity to engage in the same type of behavior without consequence, setting off a cycle that can have detrimental effects.

Managing Absenteeism

Managing employee absences is a critical task for HR professionals. Gerry Leonard, President of Benefits Services for ADP, offers five tips that can reduce the risks, simplify complexities, and improve the work experience for employees and supervisors.

  1. Communication: Stay in constant contact with employees about time off policies. Reach out when they change, and let them know how the policies and any changes will affect them. According to Leonard, studies indicate that absence rates are directly correlated to communication: When employees are kept in the loop, absenteeism rates are below average.
  2. Manager Education: Make sure your managers are aware of employee rights as dictated by company policy, and state and federal laws. Train them so they can consistently apply policies accurately.
  3. Better Leave Tracking: Monitor leaves and absences closely to reduce significant productivity loss and ward off potential claims by employees.
  4. Team Up with Operations: Start a dialogue with finance and operations to set goals and implement integrated solutions to absenteeism.
  5. Offer Self-Service Tools: Give managers and employees comprehensive, easy to use web-based tools that allow for time tracking, submitting leave requests, and viewing employee leave calendars.

You should also encourage communication between managers and staff, and be realistic about attendance during certain times of the year when absences may increase. Recognize that not everyone celebrates the same holidays, and promote flexibility when it comes to taking days off and exchanging shifts.

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