How To Reduce Absenteeism

Since absenteeism is a major barometer of employee morale, absenteeism above 5% per week is very serious (3% is the standard goal we use with our clientele). Left unchecked, high absenteeism usually develops into very serious business problems including morale issues and high turnover.

To reduce absenteeism, first check the percentage of employee absenteeism by supervisor. Usually absenteeism is localized to one or two supervisors. If you find the absenteeism equal throughout your factory then look to other things for the solution. If it is localized then the answer is obvious - under-trained supervisors. While you're looking at the absenteeism figures note if new employees cause any excessive portion. If it is, you might need to update your hiringprocedure to ensure you only hire dependable people.

Next you need to look at absenteeism a little more closely, in terms of the principal reason given for it - sickness. Is any part of this type of absenteeism avoidable?

Sometimes employees call in sick when they really do not want to go to workbecause of other, deeperreasons. For example. they would not call you up and say, "I'm not coming in today because my supervisor abuses me." Or, "I'm not coming in today because my chair is uncomfortable" Or, "I'm not coming in today because the bathrooms are so filthy, it makes me sick to walk into them."

The answer to eliminate those types of absences (blamed on sickness) is to develop an effective program that strikes at the core of the issues. Our manual for "Reducing and Controlling Absenteeism and Labor Turnover" (you will find on our website) is a good place to begin.

Any program intended to cut down on absenteeism has to move along two parallel paths. For example:

1. Find the causes of worker discontent and eliminate them.

If workers find their supervisor or job unpleasant - really unpleasant - the worker looks for legitimate excuses to stay home and finds them with upset stomachs, splitting headaches, aching wrists, etc. Any effective absentee control program has to locate the causes of worker discontent and modify or entirely eliminate them. In other words, if we deal with the real reasons workers stay home it becomes unnecessary for them to look for those sickness excuses they actually use.

2. Change the worker's way of reacting and responding to discontent.

Well, what are the real causes for worker discontent? To find out, there was a landmark absenteeism survey taken where questionnaires were sent to 3,000 workers in 18 companies. The workers were asked to answer five questions relative to their employment. Answers were put alongside their absentee records and their answer to a sixth question. "How many days of work did you miss during the past twelve months?" With this comparison, it became apparent that there were some fascinating correlations between types of worker discontent and rates of absenteeism. Is the employee who thinks they are underpaid more likely to miss a day here and there than the employee who can't stand their supervisor? Or is it the other way around?

Question #1: Are you paid enough for the work you do?

The answers revealed that there was no apparent connection between the absenteeism and pay. Many workers who said they were satisfied with their pay, had poor attendance records. Many others who said they were underpaid, were never absent.

Question #2: Do you feel overworked?

Surprisingly, again there was no apparent connection. Traditional thinking is that the employee that feels they are being overworked, would feel they were entitled to an occasional day off and they would call in sick. But it doesn't seem to work that way. That's the assumption that was sought, but was not found. So - it appears - we can be sure it's just not there.

Question #3: How do you feel about your company?

Here that indefinable thing called "company image" was questioned (I.E., Are you proud of your company? Do you think it offers appropriate opportunities for advancement? etc.).

Everyone was given five answers to choose from . . . excellent, good, fair, not so good or very poor. There were a large number of responses to each question. In each group, there were workers who were absent too often, others whose attendance was all right and others who went for years without missing a day. Once again, no connection at all.

Question #4: How do you rate your working conditions?

We are talking about the actual physical working conditions at work . . . heat, light, air conditioning, etc.

In the answers to this question and to the one that follows, there was a dramatic switch over from the answers to the first three. The answers clearly reveal the strongest, most often overlooked causes of absenteeism and will provide you with a solution springboard.

Those workers who rated their working conditions as excellent, had excellent attendance records almost without exception. The workers who rated their working conditions as very poor were again absent much too often - almost without exception.

The three ratings in-between conformed very closely to this pattern, too - the good, fair and not so good ratings. This set of connections was so clear, it was startling. The worker who finds it physically pleasant to be at their workplace, physically pleasant to be on the premises of the company where they work will be less absent than the worker who doesn't find it pleasant.

Question #5: How do you rate your Supervisor?

Once more, the ratings ranged from excellent down to very poor. Once more, the answers pointed to some very clear conclusions.

Those workers who rated their supervisors as excellent, had excellent attendance records - right across the board. And, those workers who rated their supervisors as very poor, stayed out just about every chance they could. This pattern followed through the other ratings, too. The pattern here came close to duplicating the pattern for "How do you rate your working conditions?" It was in these two, out of the five questioned areas that the only clear connection between worker discontent and their rates of absenteeism became visible.

The message here is obvious enough, but for some, possibly even you, it may be a bit ominous. Where you have an absentee problem and poorly trained supervision and/or poor working conditions the only way you are going to bring that absenteeism down, is by correcting those conditions. Poor supervision and poor working conditions. . . there's the problem and that's where the corrections have to be made. You can't do it with pep talks, better wages, contests, more benefits, company bowling teams or Christmas parties. They won't accomplish a long-lasting thing.

When you have more than 5% of your workers out, probably less than half of those excessive absences are legitimate - people missing work because they have some justified or acceptable reason. To solve that issue, pro-actively train the supervisors and give them the proper absenteeism control tools.

What about absenteeism policies, won't they work? They will, if they are "No-fault" policies and management has the fortitude to remain strongly committed to terminate anyone who violates them. For example, when visiting companies GLA has seen absentee policies manipulated where management keeps an employee who should have been terminated ("but s/he is too good of a worker to terminate") and fires the losers. Because of the legal and morale dangers involved –through selective enforcement – manipulated policies should be trashed because they can no longer serve as effective deterrents.

In our experience, we've found that proper testing of applicants is another way to reduce absenteeism. If you can determine, through testing that a person just a warm body and is going to be an absence offender, you can weed that person out before they join your ranks thereby lowering your absenteeism experience.

Until next time, If you want to have what you have not then you must do what you do not.



Gene Levine

"Is president of Gene Levine Associates ('GLA'), a highly recognized, successful and respected management consulting firm, formed in 1965 and specializing in the "Human Side" of change. GLA provides solutions to profit and people problems for organizations and companies. Clientele span most all businesses and organiza...

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