Absenteeism can have very serious consequences for the profitability of your business. Indeed, the cost of absenteeism is often high. Thus, you should pay attention to absence management to optimize the productivity of your workforce.
Absenteeism policy, or absence management, is a set of instructions and procedures that help businesses reduce the number of working days missed by employees. It’s beneficial to any company because it offers employees supportive well-being options and reduces extra costs for business. This article offers you six solutions to better manage employee absenteeism. Let’s start!
The effect of absenteeism in job satisfaction studies
People miss work for a variety of reasons. The main absenteeism reasons are:
- Bullying and harassment
- Childcare and eldercare
- Mental health issues
- Illness or injuries
- Job hunting.
According to the BLS, 7.8 million workers missed work in January 2022 because of illness, injury, or medical issues. Work interruptions led to decreased productivity and financial losses of $225.8 billion, or $1,685 per employee, per year.
So, what should you look for to solve these issues? First, of course, pay attention to job satisfaction studies, as it’s a part of absence management.
Job satisfaction surveys became popular in the 1950s. Initially, the researchers defined cash income as the biggest motivation for employees to keep working. Consider McGregor’s theories X and Y. Theory X assumes that workers don’t like work and are only interested in security and material reward. Theory Y, on the other hand, claims that employees love responsibility, are interested in work and their careers, and want to take on challenges and responsibilities. Thus, according to Theory X, strict control and supervision are encouraged. And Theory Y, in turn, encourages decentralization of power, teamwork, and decision-making within the organization.
Later, in the 1960-70s, Bassett-Jones and Lloyd described two types of workers: “mostly lazy” and “shy at work.” They offered to divide motivation based on these character types (such as reasonable payment and management encouragement). Finally, Frederick Herzberg developed a motivational and hygienic theory concerning the impact of work. The psychologist included that payment and working conditions are the biggest motivators to reduce work absenteeism.
Another typology that has been recognized in the search to reduce absenteeism at work is intrinsic motivation. This type assumes that managers can help increase employee productivity by offering career opportunities and greater employee participation in the company.
Later, in 2003, Douglas Freed found that work satisfaction depends on the work environment, such as job characteristics and economic conditions. For example, well-designed jobs lead to high motivation, a high-quality work environment, high satisfaction, low absenteeism, and workforce turnover.
Of course, all the theories described above aren’t 100% perfect; you won’t be able to completely get rid of absenteeism in the workplace. However, there are still some ways to improve employee attendance. So, let’s see how some absence management strategies helped in practice.
Strategies to reduce workplace absenteeism
It’s necessary to identify causes and find a compromise solution if you want to reduce absenteeism at work. For example, sometimes health problems can arise due to a mismatch between the workload (requirements) and the capabilities of the employee (abilities and skills). Thus, health problems and a mismatch of skills can lead to absenteeism.
These latter factors turn into the “absentee barrier.” This entire process, in turn, is influenced by individual factors, company & workplace factors, and social factors. For example, biological and psychological factors, such as a worker’s physical constitution and mental resilience, affect their ability at the individual level. There are practices (also called interventions) to prevent and reduce absenteeism:
- Procedural interventions are aimed at raising the absence barrier and helping control absenteeism.
- Work-oriented preventive interventions reduce the mismatch between load and capacity by reducing and solving security, health, and well-being issues.
- Preventive personality-oriented interventions improve the balance between workload and capacity.
- Recent interventions reduce absenteeism and aim to improve the return to work for sick workers.
Models with good practices vs. absenteeism
We looked at examples of how some companies have implemented absence management strategies. As a result, these organizations have managed to solve the problem of absenteeism more systematically than others. So, let’s see what they did to reduce absenteeism.
Bank of Austria (≈1,700 employees)
Absenteeism policy is part of the company’s health policy, and it leads to a broad workplace health promotion program. The other two initiatives are parts of a more general workplace effort to reduce ill-health. For example, the Bank of Austria has obliged HR to provide a medical certificate after one day of absence. In contrast, according to national regulations, a person should present the certificate within three days. Thus, the company combined procedural measures with preventive measures focused on work and personality.
Volkswagen Brussels NV (≈950 employees)
The company’s initiatives describe new forms of absenteeism strategies. For example, Volkswagen plants emphasized the reintegration of vacations that offer specially adapted works. Alternative work was first presented due to an accident at work, later due to illness. They also provide attendance bonuses. Thus, absenteeism has fallen markedly in the company. However, the changes led to some social conflicts, most likely because these decisions weren’t so radical and were limited by administrative obstacles.
Beiersdorf AG (≈5,500 employees)
The company has started health clubs, which include an analysis of health problems and solutions to solve them. These health circles have led to the identification and implementation of new attendance opportunities. Beiersdorf AG has also focused on the procedural approach to absenteeism by monitoring and training absentee interviewers. They also provided a reintegration policy, preventing further harm. For example, they reduced working hours for older workers.
Bormioli Rocco Casa (≈300 employees)
A meat processing company focused on reducing occupational diseases and accidents at work. They constantly train employees to use personal protective equipment (lifting work automation, safer equipment, machinery, etc.). The measures aren’t only focused on checking the needs of employees, but also on the analysis of accidents and absenteeism. The company also contracts with the union. Industrial relations are progressive and allow for the management of various issues related to the protection of the health and safety of workers through cooperation and exchange of information and knowledge between stakeholders.
Waterland Hospital (≈800 employees)
The organization combines a procedural approach to absenteeism with preventive measures. Waterland Hospital bases its activity on active employee participation, cost-benefit analysis, and a systems approach (first diagnosis, then intervention). This absence management was successful. Absences related to health have decreased significantly, and the analysis of the costs and benefits of these attempts to reduce absenteeism showed a positive balance.
East Midlands Electricity (≈4,200 employees)
This organization pays attention to the safety and health of the employees. In addition, they take preventive measures to improve the well-being of employees, mainly through subjective measures. They also implemented a few projects to reduce stress through a work-oriented approach. The company seems to value improving the health of its employees rather than reducing the cost of absenteeism in terms of efficiency, and it works.
We hope these examples have given you a clear idea of the aspects necessary for the successful reduction of absenteeism related to the specifics of work, working conditions, health, and social needs. Summing up, stick to these tips:
- Try a systematic approach. Workplace initiatives should reduce absenteeism related to ill-health and go beyond a partial response to health problems when they arise.
- Involve senior management. Active involvement of senior management is key to the success of workplace initiatives, not only at the beginning of the project but also in the later stages. Such decisions enhance the project’s identity in the organization and facilitate the decision-making process.
- Involve professional medical care. The involvement of the Human Resources and Health Department can help reduce absenteeism, increase trust in the project, and enhance a sense of objectivity.
- Involve work councils and unions. As a rule, members of the work councils and labor unions allow workers to negotiate more favorable working conditions and other benefits through collective bargaining.
- Improve a balanced set of measures. A balanced approach includes procedural measures to increase absenteeism barriers, reduce the ease of reporting illnesses, and preventive measures to prevent health issues.
Solving or reducing the problem of absenteeism is a matter to tackle in the long run. Still have questions about absence management? If so, let’s talk and find a solution for your organization together.