Is Too Much Absenteeism Causing You Problems?

By Mark Swartz
Monster Contributing Writer

In Saskatchewan the average is 9.5%. For Newfoundland and Labrador, just 7.6%. The overall Canadian figure is 8.1%.

These are the average absentee rates for employees on any given week. Absenteeism is basically unplanned time off. Sick leave and burnout days are included. Lost time from vacations, statutory holidays, workplace injuries or parental leaves aren't.
Unplanned absences cost employers over $7 billion annually. That's $572 per employee—which jumps to $1,700 per worker when looking at disability on the whole.
The bulk of employee absences are legit. But are your employees abusing their entitlements? If so, there are ways to reduce this misuse.
How Excessive Absenteeism Hurts Your Company
Everyone gets sick now and then. And we all need time off occasionally for personal reasons. However when your employees abuse their entitlements the costs start to mount.
A recent survey by the Conference Board of Canada shows that only 40% of employers track absenteeism rates. Meanwhile the direct cost of absences averaged 2.6% of payroll in these organizations.
As an employer, you end up having to deal with…
·         Increased team workloads
·         Low morale among colleagues expected to take on extra work
·         Reduced performance and productivity
·         Missed deadlines due to a lack of trained, experienced replacements
·         Diminished reputation with customers and potential employees
·         Lost business because you can't cope with demand
Spotting Legitimate Absences From Abusive Ones
"I am happy to support my employees when they can't avoid time off work," says small business owner Patricia Wong in Vancouver. She acknowledges that people may need extra missed days periodically. "It's when they take advantage of me that I start to feel resentful."
So how does Patricia distinguish between legitimate absence and abuse of entitlements? "You get to know your employees' patterns. Here in my hair salon, if someone all of a sudden starts to miss a few Mondays, or comes in with excuses that don't pass the smell test, I start to watch them more closely."
Benoit Gauthier is VP of Human Resources with a mid-size Quebec City insurance firm. He says that you have to trust your employees, but this doesn't mean letting them get away with too much.
"First, you must consider the personal needs of that particular employee," says Gauthier. "If they require accommodation for special circumstances, such as an important family matter, we give them the benefit of the doubt."
He adds that he instructs the company's managers to follow-up and learn if the employee's extra time off helped them. "We don't want to snoop," say Benoit. "Instead we need to ensure that the employee returns productive, and does not get into the habit of missing work without an appropriate reason."
Are You Contributing To The Problem?
Employees have a responsibility to show up for work. You have a duty too, which is to decrease internal causes of unnecessary absenteeism.
Angela Borges, Manager, Health and Absence Management, with Standard Life, was a presenter at Benefits Canada’s workforce management conference. She sees a lot of different types of workplace absences. This includes short- and long-term disability related to chronic disease, stress and mental illness.
“From my perspective as a carrier, what influences a lot of absenteeism is poorly documented performance management, lack of attendance management programs, poor training for managers and poor hiring practices,” she noted. “Some employees come in the door having the wrong impression of the organization." And some employers don't bother to address this gap.
Encouraging Higher Attendance
There are many ways to promote higher attendance, using carrots, sticks, or both. Perhaps the most basic way is to simply be clear with employees about what is acceptable in terms of absence allowances. This can be done during onboarding, and reinforced in your employee handbook.
One key to better attendance, according to consulting firm Towers Perrin, is higher employee engagement. They issued a report that shows companies lose an average of 8.8 days yearly to presenteeism for employees with high sustainable engagement, versus 17.7 days for the disengaged. Regarding absenteeism, companies lose an average of three days per year for employees with high sustainable engagement, versus nearly six days for the disengaged.
What leads to higher engagement? A healthy safe environment. Work-life balance initiatives. Non-financial rewards for missing fewer days. Caring management.
Another way to decrease abuse: do like Benoit, and hold mini return-to-work interviews even for minor absences. Make managers at all levels accountable for excessive missed days.
It's not that all employees exploit their absence entitlements. But for those who do, a few practical measures can ward off the kind of misuse that puts a burden on everyone else.