Deal With Absenteeism at the Roots

Absenteeism is a real bugbear in business today.UK workers have an average 10 days unscheduled absence from their jobs each year, around twice that of their counterparts in the US (5.5 days) and Asia-Pacific (4.5 days), but on a par with Western Europe (9.7 days).

  Sickness accounts for around 80% of absence, which also covers jury service and compassionate leave.

With the average UK salary around £25,000, absenteeism is costing British business approximately £32 billion each year, far more than previous studies have suggested. 

This figure is also likely to be conservative, as it reflects direct cost of absence and does not take into account potential replacement costs and lost productivity.

Richard Phelps, HR consulting partner at PwC, said: “While sometimes absence from work is unavoidable, once people see colleagues frequently taking unscheduled leave, absence becomes less of a dilemma and more of a right. 

Breaking the cycle can be hard.  Retailers take a robust approach, with pay docked almost immediately.  With retail resignation rates substantially higher than other sectors, some could argue this is hindering morale. 

But with a largely unskilled, often temporary staff base, boosting engagement is extremely difficult.” And as I see it, that’s the key…engagement. I always ask managers to look at the root causes of any unauthorised absenteeism, and very often it is caused by people not being challenged enough or having the chance to make a real difference in their jobs.

Reducing employee absenteeism requires sustained effort and the first and the foremost step in this direction is to provide coaching to the team leaders/managers to see how the job can be manufactured to make it enjoyable, challenging and using the specific skills that will stretch the employee to show how they can contribute. Managers should also be provided with training to improve their interpersonal skills.

They should also be reminded that the power they have has to be used to make the organisation a better place to work, not to boss around and put people off.

This will not only help you in addressing employee absenteeism, but also in tackling issues like high employee turnover ratios, and low morale in the workplace.

Having a clear leave policy is essential if you don’t want your employees to abuse their privileges. It is important that you explain all the policies to your employees when you recruit them so that there is no scope for miscommunication. This helps especially in case of large organizations where it is virtually impossible to keep an eye on every employee. Having an effective communication system helps in maintaining transparency and keeps rumor mongers at bay.

It dispels negativity and makes employees feel that they are being recognised as a part of the organisation. Trusting your employees by giving them more responsibilities instills a sense of confidence in them and creates a good atmosphere in the workplace. So think how the job itself is motivating the employee.

Ensure you give opportunities for growth and expansion, make sure the work is invigorating and interesting, and you will have more reasons for people to contribute by being part of the solution rather than adding to the problem.

Thanks again


Sean McPheat

Managing Director

MTD Training   

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Updated on: 2 October, 2011

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