It’s not wrong to take a break from work. Everyone needs a vacation or some time off. Every employer and company knows this, and many offer some sort of vacation credit system employees can avail of. Same goes for when someone’s sick — it would both be unreasonable and unsafe to expect them to still come to work regardless.
The problem begins when this system is abused. When people make it a habit to make unscheduled absences from work, or what is called absenteeism at work. Investopedia defines absenteeism as “the habitual non-presence of an employee at his or her job. Habitual non-presence extends beyond what is expected as a normal amount of time away for reasons such as scheduled vacation or occasional illness.”
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The problem with absenteeism at work
While regular and scheduled absences at work, along with the occasional sick day are more or less expected and planned for, anything in excess of this hurts the organization. The damage is even more extensive when the practice is tolerated long term. And the longer it’s tolerated, the more people feel emboldened to follow suit, and the more harmful it is to the workplace. Absenteeism at work has the potential to set off a destructive chain of events that can spell disaster for any workplace, and the people who remain to do their jobs the right and proper way.
A study done by EARN, or the Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion, cites the U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, stating that absenteeism can cost U.S. businesses approximately $40 billion a year in direct financial losses. EARN is a free resource for employers funded by the U.S. Department of Labor. This is because if these absences are unplanned and unexpected, many companies end up paying overtime for other employees, or need to hire short-term workers to fill up the void left by absent employees.
Plus, since temporary or overworked employees don’t deliver their best work due to fatigue or unfamiliarity with tasks outside of their job description, productivity and quality of work suffers significantly. In addition, a Forbes article cites data from the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, which puts the annual cost of lost productivity in the workplace due to absenteeism to be around $84 billion, a much larger estimate. To put things into perspective, let’s look at data from Circadian. According to the firm, a company with around 1000 shift workers stands to conservatively lose approximately $2.6 million a year due to absenteeism, or around $2,660 a year per worker.
Regardless of where you look, absenteeism is not cost-effective, unhealthy for the bottom line and a challenging hurdle towards success. An article by Inc. lists a number of “notable cost factors” that come with absenteeism at work. These include lost productivity of the absent employee, Overtime for other employees to fill in, decreased overall productivity of those employees, costs incurred to secure temporary help, possible loss of business or dissatisfied customers, and problems with employee morale. As you can see, absenteeism is no joke, and while seemingly harmless when first looked at, can cause disaster in the workplace.
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What are some common causes of absenteeism at work?
What causes absenteeism at work to begin with? In order to solve the problem, it is best to begin by looking at what might cause it in the first place. Again, take note that we’re talking about absenteeism outside the occasional calling in sick or the planned vacations of employees, since these are benefits they have the right to enjoy.
While chronic absenteeism in itself is destructive, it doesn’t appear out of nowhere. It doesn’t occur in a vacuum or happens without reason. So why does absenteeism at work happen?
1. Harassment and bullying
Bullying is a thing of schoolyards and playgrounds, but that doesn’t mean workplaces are spared from this kind of behavior. It’s already unfortunate when bullying happens among children, it’s even more unfortunate when this bad behavior is carried over to adult life and into what should be a professional setting. But it does happen more often than we’d like, and while many of bullied or harassed employees recognize the importance of their jobs, you cannot blame them for trying to stay away as often as they can. It’s not an easy thing to just leave and find a new job, especially if the harasser or the bully in the workplace is a boss or supervisor — how would you expect them to provide a positive recommendation for the next job?
2. Bad management and bad bosses
There’s a corporate and workplace that goes like, “Employees don’t leave bad jobs, they leave bad bosses.” But before that even happens, there’s the chronic absenteeism. Who wants to go to work when his or her boss, manager or supervisor is perpetually irate, or who likes to nitpick and give employees a hard time? Not all bosses are like this, of course, and it’s reasonable to expect anger to bubble up sometimes during extra stressful moments, but turn it up a notch more and it would be unreasonable in turn to expect employees to take this kind of behavior sitting down. Naturally, unmotivated employees, who generally feel powerless to speak up when they receive this kind of unpleasant treatment, will try to look for excuses to not go to work.
3. Burnout and stress
Some employees get the short end of the stick — they get stuck with either the most unpleasant tasks or are given too much that their plate is perpetually full. Burnout and stress generated by work, especially when unacknowledged by management, can cause chronic absenteeism at work.
For example, take the people who work for sites like Facebook and Youtube who are specifically tasked to filter out obscene and disturbing content. They are perpetually and daily bombarded by all sorts of unpleasant and disturbing content that would turn a normal person’s stomach — imagine it being your job to subject yourself and sort out content like this on a daily basis. Even when the pay is good, it does take a toll, and absenteeism is not uncommon in workplaces like these.
4. Special circumstances; company inflexibility
Sometimes, talented individuals have certain life circumstances that prevent them from working the regular 9-to-5 shift. It may be an illness, care needs for children or family members, or other special circumstances. In these cases, employees may be frequently absent from work or be unable to come to the office due to their circumstances, especially if the company they are working for is not understanding of their needs.
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How to deal with absenteeism at work
So how should companies and brands respond to this? The problem of absenteeism is real and the risks it poses to productivity is significant. Plus, not all reasons for missing work are unreasonable or poor — there are many legitimate reasons behind absenteeism, and it would be remiss for companies to ignore circumstances where employees’ only recourse is to try to stay away from work while also trying to keep their jobs at the same time.
The good news is that absenteeism at work can be prevented. It’s all about foresight and taking preventive measures that benefit both the company and its employees. Here are some ways to mitigate the disaster that is absenteeism at work:
1. Put up a work-life balance program
Yes, that is a thing, and it’s met with tremendous success in many companies. Having a healthy work-life balance is better for employee morale and helps him or her become more motivated, driven, and appreciative of his or her role in the organization. Work-life balance programs can entail things like allowing alternative or flexible working schedules, job sharing and collaboration, telecommute or work from home, child care support programs, as well as programs that promote better health and well-being. It might seem daunting and expensive at first, but especially if you think long term, the benefits far outweigh the investment you’ll be putting in a program such as this.
2. Establish a leave management strategy
Even planned absences can sometimes cause unintended chaos because the organization does not have a contingency in place to help cope with the temporary void left by the person. Even more so when dealing with absenteeism at work — the whole workflow and schedule can be thrown into disarray, causing delays and losses. But with a leave management strategy, this can all be prevented.
Part of that strategy is covered by the work-life balance program — say for example someone cannot make it to work because they have an illness that’s infectious, but they’re willing and perfectly capable of working. A program that allows working from home or telecommuting ensures that they can still work on their assigned tasks without them needing to come into the office and potentially spread illness. Same with a flexible work schedule — as long as the appropriate number of working hours are met and the deadlines or timeline of project completion isn’t compromised, people can work at their own pace while also meeting their needs outside of work.
3. Set up a real, working platform for employees to air grievances — and address these issues
A lot of absenteeism at work stems from employee dissatisfaction. Besides the inevitable lack of motivation this causes which in turn affects an employee’s passion and commitment to his or her work, it’s also bad for the organization as a whole if things like harassment and bullying in the workplace are left unaddressed. Same thing with unreasonable bosses. Creating a way for employees to have a voice and send legitimate complaints and concerns (while remaining anonymous as well to help prevent retaliation) can help create a safer and happier workplace, which is a win-win for everyone involved.
4. Establish a system to help manage and track absences
One of the reasons why chronic absenteeism runs rampant in many organizations is the absence of means for management to track and oversee time management, absences, and how time is being utilized in the workplace. But with the right tools, like Runrun.it’s Smart Time Tracking, all that can change.
Generate time management reports, track absences, get data on time usage of projects and tasks — these and more are made possible by the tool. Add the Runrun.it Dashboard tool, which allows access to even more workflow management data and you can address not only absenteeism, but also other issues that may pop up in the organization that you’d normally miss otherwise (the kind of issues that tend to only make themselves known when it’s too late).
It’s a great preventive measure for absenteeism, and may allow managers and leaders to step in and help address any issues that inhibit productivity and the delivery of high quality work. To see how Runrun.it’s tools can truly help your organization and meet your specific needs, check out the free trial here.