Most workers are only absent from work for genuine reasons such as injury or sickness. However, for various reasons staff can take time off work that could have been avoided. The question of how to reduce absenteeism in the workplace is not just about making sure staff are being honest. There can be factors driving staff absenteeism within the job or workplace. Our guide looks at how to reduce those lost work days and increase productivity.
The Consequences of Absenteeism
A high level of absenteeism is not only extremely costly to employers but it can add to the burden of the rest of the staff and lower morale.
A vast amount of research has been undertaken over the years looking into the reasons for absenteeism and, when researchers have scratched beneath the surface a little more, the predominant reason that people tend to take time off work is because of High Stress Levels.
That said, it’s rare for an employee to state ‘stress’ as the reason they’re unable to work. And, although genuine stress is very real in its severest forms, many people would possibly perceive it as a weakness if they were to own up to feeling stressed, so they simply cover that up with an often less convincing excuse.
Stress at Work
The reasons people get stressed out because of work can be many and varied.
However, the more common reasons cited have tended to be related to employers and supervisors who are very authoritarian and inflexible.
They often don’t listen to the workers, do not communicate very well, adopt a blame culture when things go wrong, speak down to workers and generally want things done their way or no way at all.
When issues like office politics start to rear their head, it can have a very negative effect on the workforce.
This can all result in a high staff turnover, increased absenteeism, Low Staff Morale, employee burnout and genuine illnesses such as headaches and backaches brought on by the stress so, even though workers will usually give another reason for their absence, some kind of stress-related problem will usually be at the root of it.
Changing the Working Environment and Culture
One of the best ways of reducing staff absenteeism is by changing the environment in which the company operates.
This can be done at a very basic level in terms of improving the conditions within offices and buildings. Modern equipment, climate controlled buildings and good work facilities are all beneficial as nobody likes to come to work to be sat or standing in a ramshackle office or factory. It goes far deeper than that though.
Employers should be encouraged to get rid of any ‘them and us’ culture within the workplace and adopt open communication policies where both workers and supervisors (or the boss) can meet regularly to discuss any issues and to consider any suggestions for improvement.
It’s not only relationships with superiors that cause a problem. Often, a person will take time off work because of Problems With a Colleague. This might not be something where they could seek action by addressing it as a work legislation issue so they might not know who to turn to and simply go absent for a while.
Employers should adopt policies which apply to all their staff which foster mutual respect between all workers and between workers and management. In addressing all of the above issues firstly, it’s most likely that a company will experience less absenteeism as a result.
In offering incentives to employees in an effort to reduce absenteeism, it’s crucial that they’’re structured in such a way so as not to be seen as an additional ‘reward’ for coming to work as they’’re paid to be there after all.
However, things like cashing in unused sick days or allowing an employee to leave work at lunchtime on the last Friday of the month if they’’ve had a perfect attendance over the preceding month are a couple of ways which can help to reduce absenteeism.
What is certain is that a company can’t adopt a haphazard approach to the areas of attendance and absenteeism and there should be a firm policy in place describing how absenteeism is dealt with and this should be incorporated into the staff handbook or employment contract of each and every worker.
Things like ‘return to work’ interviews with a manager after X amount of days absence or after so many occurrences of absence within a fixed period should be made mandatory. This strategy should not be in place to punish people but should be viewed as an opportunity for both worker and employer to hold an open discussion about the worker’s absence and to establish if there is anything an employer can do to improve the situation.
Of course, there will be some people who are just simply ‘work-shy’ and so a well-managed attendance policy will weed out those who do not have a genuine reason for repeated absenteeism. In these cases, the policy should also state any disciplinary measures the company will take in the case of illegitimate absence from work including firing the employee if the situation doesn’t improve.
However, employers need to be very careful with regard to taking radical action like this and should consult all of the relevant laws regarding the legitimate dismissal of an employee first of all. However, as long as they comply with the relevant legislation, the last resort of getting rid of an employee can be the ultimate outcome.
Our guide on peace and harmony in the workplace offers more insight into creating a positive work environment.