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Employee Absences Are Down

June 1, 1998
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The rate of employee absences in the United States is the lowest this decade, according to the 7th Annual CCH Unscheduled Absence Survey, the 1997 study released in April by CCH Inc., an employment law and HR information provider in St. Petersburg, Florida.

The study found that unscheduled absences dropped for the first time since 1991. The mean average 1997 absenteeism rate plummeted to 2.32 percent from 2.77 percent in 1996. Mean-absence rates were calculated by dividing total-paid sick hours by total-paid productive hours. The decade high was 3.07 for 1991.

However, it’s the mid-sized companies that reported the decline in absenteeism. Large firms reported no substantial change in absenteeism rates while small organizations reported a major increase in rates and costs. The study included 451 HR executives in U.S. companies of all sizes and across all industry segments.

Mid-sized employers attribute the improvement in absenteeism rates to two leading factors: fear of punishment and a strong work ethic among employees. Each of these reasons was cited by 23 percent of survey respondents. For the second year of the study, personal illness is less of a factor in why workers aren’t reporting to work as scheduled. Interestingly, loyalty to a supervisor was the third most commonly mentioned reason at 21 percent for mid-sized companies, as to why employees don’t skip work.

This year’s survey found that personal illness and family illness are the main reasons for unscheduled absences. According to CCH information on the study, "This may also explain why family-friendly or work-life programs such as flexible scheduling and programs that help parents mesh work needs with child-care responsibilities are gaining ground as a way to improve workplace productivity through reducing unscheduled absences."

CCH’s survey also determined the costs of unscheduled employee absences on employers, including hidden costs. Hidden costs include paying overtime to cover for an unscheduled absence, hiring temporary help to fill in for an absent worker, spending supervisory time to rearrange work schedules, and so on.

This year’s survey shows that even when an organization has a low absence rate, substantial costs exist. The overall average cost per employee also continues to decline, from $603 in 1996, to $572 in this year’s survey.

Employers also cited the following business concerns related to unscheduled absenteeism in five key areas which show significant increases since 1993: remaining competitive (+24 percent), co-worker morale (+12 percent), customer service (+7 percent), increasing costs (+5 percent) and productivity (+4 percent).

Workforce, June 1998, Vol. 77, No. 6, p. 14.

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