“WHERE ARE THEY?”: Addressing Staff Absenteeism

It's 8.00am or so, you're alone in the office pondering the mountain of paperwork. The phone rings. It's Jill…"..bit of a cough, won't be in today". A couple more minutes tick by…ring, ring….."It's Bob, kids are sick and I need to take them to the doctor…can't make it in."

Familiar story?....

Unscheduled staff absenteeism can be a sizeable problem for any business, but particularly so for small to medium-sized businesses where profit margins are often marginal and there are limited resources to fill the gap.

Consider the evidence:


The recently-published 2016 National Absence Management & Wellbeing Survey by Direct Health Solutions (involving 109 Australian organisations employing over 240,000 people), found that employees were absent an average of 9.5 days during the annual survey period, a rise from 8.6 days the previous survey period. The average cost of employee absenteeism has been calculated as $3,608 per worker.

Absenteeism was highest in the Telecommunications sector (11.6 days), followed by the Public Sector (10.9 days) and Transport & Logistics (10.8 days). Absence levels in Banking, Finance & Insuranceincreased significantly to 9.7 days, while the Contact Centre industry experienced a 14% reduction in absence levels, to 9.7 days per employee per annum, down from 11.6 days in 2015.

Given the potentially significant financial and service impacts of unscheduled absenteeism, it's critical that business owners and managers give the issue serious attention.

Whilst there is unfortunately no universal "quick fix" to managing excessive absenteeism, there are some things you can do to ensure you are heading in the right direction;

  • Collect and Understand the Data – Do you really know what's going on? Is it a widespread issue or a particular problem in one area of the business, or is it just 1 or 2 individuals?
  • Be Realistic about your expectations – We all get ill and emergencies do happen! Striving for nil unscheduled absenteeism is unrealistic. While an average 8-10 days per annum is the norm, we have seen in the research reported above that it can vary significantly between industries.
  • Understand the Causes – Are absences supported by evidence? Are they "one offs" or recurring illnesses or injuries? Does it relate to the employee or a family member? Could it be that there are underlying issues in the workplace causing the staff member to avoid work?
  • Talk to People! – Data will only tell you so much. Talk to your staff and invite them to tell you of any issues or concerns they have (take care however not to get too personal!). Knowing that their manager is paying attention may in itself deter someone considering an unjustified "sickie",
  • Review and enforce relevant awards, agreements and policies – Let people know you are monitoring unscheduled absences and are prepared to enforce any relevant award, agreement or policy provisions, such as those that may relate to production of evidence, for example.
  • Once you have a better understanding of the nature, extent and reasons for the absences, consider other appropriate strategies which may include;
    • Flexible work options, including work from home, to help people better manage their family/work responsibilities
    • Providing alternate forms of leave if the person just needs time off to deal with personal issues, for example
    • Individual counselling and/or performance management
    • Promotion of health and fitness initiatives
    • Improving job design
    • Incentive schemes (take care and seek advice), and/or;
    • Cashing out unused entitlements (take care and seek advice).

So…whilst unscheduled staff absences can be a real problem for small to medium-sized businesses, there is plenty that can be done in an effort to address the issue.

The key to early success is to ensure you understand the nature and extent of the problem, identify direct and underlying causes of the absences, and ensure that the selected strategies deal with the causes and not just the symptoms.

Our range of HRDOCS include cost-effective template policies and procedures that may assist. Call us if you need support.

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