Company stability might be diminished by many factors, and absence at the workplace is one of them. The control of absenteeism is an important point in the process of reducing business expenditure. Most companies, constantly, attempt to eliminate or reduce this issue, and they focus their efforts in reducing the unnecessary or unjustified absence. Employers, therefore, need strong, understandable, available policies and procedures to manage absenteeism. This paper will review absence at the workplace, taking IBEC absence survey as the main research along with CIPD resources on the subject and ACAS website resources. It will identify key points such as effect, reasons for and types of absence, methods of measuring and policies and practices which companies use to combat absenteeism.
There is no one definition for absenteeism and copious amounts of research have been concentrated on this field. For this paper we will take the two definitions that can best explain the concept. Morley (2004) highlighted absenteeism as 'all absences from work other than paid holidays. As such it is reckoned that only a small proportion of absenteeism may represent a form of conflict. Where it does, it tends to represent an individual response to perceived problems in the workplace'. Nowadays, IBEC (2004) defines absence as 'unscheduled disruption of the work process due to days lost as a result of sickness or any other cause not excused through statutory entitlements (e.g. annual leave, maternity leave, parental leave, force majeure or carer's leave) or company approval (e.g. bereavement leave or exam/study leave)'. Therefore, absenteeism could be defined as the unscheduled occasion when an employee is not at work for diverse reasons in the normal work rota. Absence can be related to other activities such as home responsibilities, personal problems, stress or bad habits. The IBEC survey brings to light some interesting statistics such as 12% of companies cited alcohol and alcohol related illness as being short-term absence for males and 4% for females, 40% occurs during the weekends. Furthermore, it highlights that young people tend to have more frequent yet shorter periods of sickness than older people, manual workers generally have higher levels of absence than office workers, office workers have higher levels of stress-related illness than manual workers, unauthorised absence is more common among new starters; sick absence due to work-related accidents is also greater for new or inexperienced workers, absence tends to increase where there are high levels of overtime, or frequently rotating shift patterns and absence is likely to be greater in larger working groups because it is less likely to be noticed.
Types and effects of absenteeism
Absence affects the whole company not just the person who is absent, and there are various reasons to explain why the individual might be absent from the workplace. Basically, it can be said that there are three main types of absence: short-term sickness absence (un-certificated, self-certificated), long-term sickness absence, unauthorised absence or persistent lateness, CIPD website. In other words, the employee is really sick, they feel they are unable to come to work because of family or caring responsibilities or they simply do not want to come to work. Although each individual absence is different, general patterns often emerge. These vary from organisation to organisation because they are influenced not just by levels of illness, but also by management style, culture, and traditions of behaviour and working conditions. IBEC (WA Survey, 2004) underlined that the main cause for short-term absence was minor illness, 24% of the organisations stated that male absence was not due to genuine ill health and this reason also accounted for 16% in females. If we examine more closely the sentence written at the beginning of the paragraph, some of the collateral effect causes for absenteeism of one person in the company could be:
The cost of hiring and training new staff.
Missed certain project deadlines due to a lack of training and experience.
Customer satisfaction levels.
Low morale among colleagues.
Loss of reputation with customers and potential employees
Collecting and measuring data methodology
Manual or technologic methods are used to record the absenteeism levels within organisations, formally or informally, because with this data collected, companies might know who, when, how long, how often and why someone is absent. In the IBEC survey that 95% of the companies carry out, being in the half of this the supervisor or line manager responsible for recording. It is very important for companies to measure absence, and identify the main patterns and distinguish the possible causes. There may also be other reasons why absenteeism should be analysed; such as to confirm if a problem with absence levels exists in the company, or to identify the type of absence and benchmark them with other companies in the sector. However, when the CIPD (2006) absence survey is analysed, the outcomes are unimaginable due to minus of the half of employers monitor the cost of absence and beneath of the half of organisations have set a target for reducing absence and just 38% of benchmark themselves. IBEC's survey (2004) highlighted that only around a third of companies calculate the cost of absence. Furthermore, the companies who calculate the cost, only include direct costs such as sick pay, over time, replacement cost etc. However, they do not count indirect cost such as loss of productivity, the effect on quality, increase work pressure on colleagues and administration. Hence, as a result of including or not including this data, absence rate can vary between organisations. The following principle is the most common formula used to calculate the rate:
In companies where there are work shifts, the Bradford Factor is used. This identifies persistent short-term absence for individuals, combining frequency with duration as a measure. It is calculated using the formula:
Bradford factor= S x S x D
S: number of spells of absence in 52 weeks taken by an individual.
D = number of days of absence in 52 weeks taken by that individual
Long and short term absence
Companies attend to manage absence placing policies within organisations that support and help to achieve business' objectives and culture. Those policies have to be clear in terms of rights and obligations. CIPD advise that at least the following key points should be included in these policies: process to follow, detail of contractual sick pay, contain details of when they require a fit note from their doctor, explain that adjustments may be appropriate to assist the employee in returning to work, mention that the organisation reserves the right to require employees to attend an examination by a company doctor to request a report from the employee's doctor and include provisions for return-to-work interviews as these have been identified as the most effective intervention to manage short-term absence.
Line managers have an important role to play, either directly or indirectly, in the interventions to reduce absence levels. How managers behave has a significant impact on employee health and happiness. Using their communications skills, they need to encourage employees to discuss any problems they may have at an early stage so that employees can be given support or advice before matters escalate. So line manager should receive the training they need to deal with this matter .But despite the importance placed on this, only just over 50% of organisations train their line managers in the skills needed to do this (IBEC 2004). Line managers should be trained on how to conduct return-to-work interviews, counselling, policies and procedures, recording style in the company, legal and disciplinary aspects.
When the individual returns to the organisation, the manager or the line manager should intervene using the tools of the company. Some of the common short-term absence interventions would be the return-to-work interviews, restricting sick pay provision and disciplinary procedures for unacceptable absence levels among others.
The return-to-work interviews will enable the supervisor to welcome the employee back to work, in addition to demonstrating management's strong commitment to controlling and managing absenteeism in the workplace. They also provide managers with an opportunity to start a dialogue with staff to discuss underlying issues, which might be causing the absence.
The use of disciplinary procedures for unacceptable absence may be used to make it clear to employees that unjustified absence will not be tolerated and that absence policies will be enforced.
Another tactic would be attendances or bonuses, CIPD (2006) survey highlights that just 12% of organisations use it as a tool to manage absence in the workplace.
IBEC's study defined long-term absence as being absences that last more than 20 days. According to companies in the IBEC survey, 42% of days lost were due to long-term absence. Therefore, it could be defined as a continuous time off and it could be amount to a number of weeks or months. Also the role of the line manager is crucial in managing long-term absence, due to the fact that it may be helpful to appoint someone to co-ordinate the return-to-work process. This may include keeping colleagues of the employee who is absent informed of progress, so that they all understand the situation, as well as easing the transition back to work and maintaining working relationships.
This paper has highlighted definitions of absenteeism, different statistics, opinions from the most important employer institutions, patterns of conduct to decrease absenteeism at the workplace, and finally methods of measuring absenteeism.
Companies attempt to eliminate and reduce this important issue, the short-term issue being the main objective for them, as a key point in controlling the process of reducing business cost on hiring new staff, training, the negative effects of low morale among colleagues and the loss of customer and supplier satisfaction. Therefore, absenteeism could diminish company stability and imaging to the stakeholders. Both, CIPD and IBEC, have commented on the connection to another issues related to short-term absence such as personal problems, home responsibilities, stress and also bad habits such as drinking, which is interesting to note as they collected data showing that 12% of companies cited alcohol as a problem related to absenteeism.
Almost all companies collect data, formally or informally, manually or with some kind of technology, in order to know if an absence problem exists within the company and to measure how big it actually is. By recording this data, companies are able to know who, when, how long, how often and why someone is absent. This is essential as it allows companies to measure the absence and possibly identify the main patterns and underline the possible causes of absenteeism. As previously mentioned, there are other reasons why it should be analysed, such as to confirm for example, if a problem with absence levels exists and to identify the type of absence and benchmark them with other companies in the sector. The paper has also highlighted that 95% percent of the companies measure absence levels.. However, CIPD (2006) highlighted only minus of the half of employers monitor the cost of absence and beneath of the half of organisations have set a target for reducing absence and just 38% of benchmark themselves. IBEC's survey (2004) demonstrated that, only around a third of companies calculate the cost of absence.
Even though the role of the line manager is very important in reducing absence levels, due to the manager's behaviour having a significant impact in employee health and moral at work, this paper has underlined that just over 50% of organisations train their line managers in the skills needed for this (IBEC 2004). That is a huge issue because managers who use their communications skill can persuade employees to discuss the reasons for their absence, give them advice and support before other actions need to be taken Nonetheless, line managers should be trained on how to conduct return-to-work interviews, counselling, policies and procedures, recording styles in the company and also legal and disciplinary aspects. Return-to-work interviews are necessary to welcome the employee back to work, make his/her immersion easier and in addition to this, they demonstrate management's strong commitment to controlling and managing absenteeism in the workplace. Before concluding, it is important to note that the CIPD (2006) survey illustrates that just 12% of organisations use it as a tool of absence management.