Would you like to slash your absenteeism rate? Most managers accept that employees are not always physically ill when they call in sick. And depending on which studies you look at between 17% and 66% of sick leave occurs for reasons other than physical illness. But is there anything you can do about it? Actually there is. We’ll look at techniques for reducing Absenteeism within the framework of its six main causes.
A Framework for Absenteeism
There are six areas where systems, policies and practices will have an impact on Absenteeism rates. They are:
- Recruitment and selection
- Relationships with managers
- Position profiles
- Workplace environment
- Work-life balance
- Company culture
Recruitment and Selection
Inadequate selection and screening processes can contribute to an absenteeism problem. This is simply because some people are more prone to the various circumstances, attitudes and conditions which lead some people to take excessive unscheduled leave. Establishing proactive screening and assessment processes combined with testing and hiring will help you employ the right people for the right roles from the outset. You should implement screening processes which seek to assess dependability, reliability and likelihood of tardiness.
Relationships with Managers
Absenteeism is often connected to poor relationships with managers. Studies have found authoritarian management styles linked to higher rates of stress induced absenteeism. Authoritarian managers frequently display poor listening and communication skills, are inflexible and set unreachable goals. Good managers make people want to come to work in the morning. They do this by fostering healthy relationships with their staff. They are fair and meritocratic in particular when granting leave, promotions and pay rises.
To identify managers whose management styles may be contributing to an Absenteeism problem consider these two steps: firstly analyse your patterns of Absenteeism data to see if it is localised by manager and conduct 360 degree staff reviews and anonymous staff satisfaction surveys. If you identify absenteeism patters in connection with individual managers consider corrective action as necessary. In addition consider general training to educate your line managers on facilitative rather than authoritative management styles.
Positions involving excessive workloads, boring or repetitive work or an unusual levels of stress will lead to high levels of job dissatisfaction which will aggravate your absenteeism levels. When developing or revising job positions consider stress, repetitiveness and workload. Implement job rotation and job sharing to breakup boring or stressful work. Look for patterns of absenteeism by position and job title. Conduct regular job satisfaction surveys to uncover issues that can lead to absenteeism and turnover. Monitor workloads and proactively manage stress levels in the workplace. Consider implementing a job enrichment program and take other proactive steps as necessary to identify and address problems related to specific roles before they become endemic.
Absenteeism is often linked to the work environment. Ask yourself whether your workplace is an attractive, healthy and inviting place to be. Or are the toilets and office dirty, the lighting poor and the desks and chairs uncomfortable? Are your employees safe from physical harm in the workplace? What about the atmosphere among co-workers? Are they exposed to confrontation, bullying or harassment? Examine your Absenteeism patterns to see if it is localised by department or site. This may indicate an issue with a particular location. Take steps to create a workplace environment that people want to be in. Educate your managers on ergonomics and safe work practices. Discourage rumours, gossip and office politics. Adopt a no jerks policy and zero tolerance for harassment and bullying.
Changing demographics, generational expectations and new technology is bluring the line between work and personal life and forcing a policy rethink. With more single parents and couples where both partners work there is increasing competition between work and personal time. Technology has enabled many employees to work from anywhere meaning staff are often working in their personal time. Staff who work during personal time may feel they are entitled to occasionally use work time to meet personal obligations. Companies who take a rigid 9-5 view of this may force employees to take sick days when they only need a few hours to take a parent to a medical appointment or a child to a special event. Generational and demographic changes mean the lifestyles, priorities and expectations of workforces are changing. Millennials prefer to multi task and use technology to blur work and personal life. Employers need to bear this in mind when developing policies and avoid rigid and inflexible approaches. Consider implementing work life programs to help employees balance work and personal life. Consider implementing a policy of paid time off. Giving employees the flexibility to balance their work and home life will usually increase loyalty and cause people to put in extra effort whereas disgruntled employees will do the bare minimum. According to the CCH research the work life programs rated most effective for reducing absenteeism were: Alternative Work Arrangements, Telecommuting, Compressed Work Week, Leave for School Functions and Flu Shot Programs.
The most extreme way culture can impact absenteeism is when a company has a culture of absence. A culture of absence (most commonly found in the public service) feeds upon itself, is detrimental to morale and breeds a culture of “why not me?” How do your employees perceive your company? Interested and caring or indifferent to their needs? Company culture can exacerbate absenteeism in a variety of ways. Ask yourself whether there’s a sense of shared purpose? Do employees feel they are part the team or are they marginalised? Does your company make people feel appreciated? Take steps to promote a culture of trust, respect and appreciation. Showing appreciation for staff will improve your absenteeism, your retention and your staff productivity. Improving your company culture will reduce your absenteeism rate and a lower rate will in turn promote a healthier company culture.
A Barometer of Morale
Absenteeism is a complex issue but if we had to simplify it down to a single point we’d say that absenteeism is a major barometer of morale. Many of the causes within the Absenteeism framework above are linked to morale. Low morale in all its forms is often a root cause of unnecessary absenteeism.
So in summary below are eight steps to slash your absenteeism rate:
- Implement systems to collect absenteeism data and analyse for trends and patterns.
- Conduct staff surveys and 360 degree reviews and analyse the results
- Screening and test during the hiring stage to assess dependability, reliability and likelihood of tardiness.
- Educate your line managers on facilitative rather than authoritative management styles.
- For position specific absenteeism consider position redesign, job enrichment, job rotation and job sharing.
- Create a healthy and safe workplace environment that people want to come to.
- Implement flexible work-life programs to reduce stress and allow people to juggle their responsibilities.
- Foster a company culture that is inclusive, respectful and appreciative.
Implement these steps as appropriate to your circumstances and you will slash your rate of unnecessary absenteeism. Doing this will result in direct cost savings, improved productivity, improved morale and a healthier corporate culture.