The work shift's begun, but the floor looks deserted. Where are your team members? Will they be calling in sick, come straggling in sometime in the next hour or maybe fail to show up at all? How much of your day will be spent trying to recruit someone to work overtime or calling around to find temporary help? And how much money is this costing the company?
Probably a lot. In 2002, unscheduled absenteeism cost companies 15 percent of their payroll, according to a recent study by Mercer Human Resource Consulting. If that sounds inflated, consider that the figure includes not only the salary paid to the staff member who failed to show up but also the cost of paying someone else to do the work. Add in the time lost by the person who has to call around to find someone to fill in, and that 15 percent figure starts to sound low.
Faced with rising absenteeism, companies have adopted a variety of approaches to reverse the trend. Here's a rundown of some different methods of combating absenteeism and the pros and cons of each:
1. Crack down on offenders. Most companies already have a written attendance policy in place, but many times enforcement is less than diligent. When absenteeism starts to rise, one alternative is to step up enforcement efforts. Pros: Cracking down normally encourages compliance and reduces the number of "sick" days taken for reasons other than personal illness. It may also correct the behavior of chronic latecomers. Cons: Some managers find it difficult to "punish" an employee with a good excuse for breaking a rule, such as a sick child or a death in the family. Being too hard on people can foster resentment.
2. Establish a "no fault" policy. In the last few years, many companies have overhauled their attendance policies by dropping the more rigid traditional guidelines in favor of generic paid days off. Instead of specifying how many days an employee can take off each year for specific reasons—two sick days, one personal day, five vacation days—these "no fault" policies allow staff members to take a predetermined number of paid days off for any reason they choose.
Pros: Because workers are less likely to call in absent at the last minute in order to use up their sick days, this system takes some of the pressure off the managers who must find replacements for them.No-fault policies also make tracking attendance easy—managers don't have to inquire about the reason for the absence. In addition, people appreciate the flexibility it gives them to deal with such necessities as caring for elderly parents or sick children.
Cons: Some managers feel this system encourages absenteeism by encouraging employees who never get sick (and are too honest to lie about it) to take more paid days off than they otherwise would.
3. Institute a "pay for wellness" program. When you look at it logically, absentee policies (traditional or no-fault) reward employees for not working by giving them a full day's pay. Why not turn it around and offer incentives to staff members to come to work every day? This isn't about awarding a junior high-type perfect attendance certificate, but rather about sharing the money the company saves by reducing the costs associated with absenteeism. Pros: You spend the same money you've always spent (or less) to promote positive work ethics. You may also see a reduction in workers' compensation claims (because employees may be more careful). Con: Employees with chronic health problems may feel the program is unfair.