Find out how to keep employees from spreading germs and calling in sick when not sick
Absenteeism can cause a number of issues — including reduced productivity and losses associated with wages — and it’s occurring more often in a number of regions.
The amount of days employees miss work annually due to illness has steadily ticked upward in European Union countries, rising from 3.5 to 16.9 days in 2011 to 3.8 to 18.3 days in 2018, according to World Health Organization data.
In Australia, absenteeism reached an average of 11.2 missed days a year per employee in 2018, an increase of 1.5 days from 2017, according to a Direct Health Solutions report — resulting in an estimated cost of more than $35 billion in wages and lost productivity.
While absenteeism in the U.S. hasn't skyrocketed in recent years, the average amount of time employees missed was also slightly higher in 2018 — 2.9 days, compared to 2.8 in 2017.
Employers are sometimes unsure how to prevent absenteeism in the workplace; however, companies may be able to at least reduce its impact by actively addressing some of the factors that can cause employees to unexpectedly be out of the office – such as:
Catching a colleague’s cold
Workers in the U.K. took half the amount of sickness days in 2017 than they did in 1993, according to Office for National Statistics data; but the ONS noted the decline could be due to a rise in presenteeism — employees going into work sick. A 2019 Accountemps survey found nine in 10 U.S. workers come into the office when they’re not feeling well; which can facilitate other employees contracting their flu or other ailment, resulting in more absenteeism in the future.
Bolstering employees’ health and emphasizing the importance the organization places on employee wellness could help remedy the situation. A study from Ontario’s Lakehead University found factors such as a deficient diet, lack of exercise and poor relations with coworkers and management can contribute to presenteeism — and certain aspects of workplace health-related programs can help diminish it.
Successful initiatives included elements such as health risk screening and individually tailored programs — and featured components like providing incentives to employees, which can improve wellness program participation and response rates, and extra break time for workers who perform highly repetitive tasks.
Off-kilter work-life balance
A CareerBuilder poll found 40 percent of workers had called in sick when they actually weren't — most often to go to a doctor’s appointment or just because they wanted a day off. Although the majority of employees who responded to the survey worked for companies with a PTO program that groups sick, vacation and personal days together, nearly three in five employees who have paid time off said they feel they have to make up an excuse for taking a personal day.
Promoting an atmosphere that supports employees being able to take time off can help discourage workers from using a sick day as validation to not feel guilty. Employees, according to a 2019 Cigna global well-being survey, want work arrangements with more personal flexibility — and a company culture that respects personal time.
Some organizations have had success with that type of model. In 2018, nearly a third (32 percent) of organizations said in an XpertHR survey that their sickness absence rate had decreased — for three reasons: they’d placed a greater emphasis on absence management, made changes to sickness absence policies and introduced a more flexible approach to taking time off for personal issues that resulted in employees taking personal leave, instead of a sick day.
Mental health concerns
While minor illnesses were the main reason employees were absent in both the U.K. and U.S, mental health has also contributed in recent years to absenteeism in numerous regions.
From 2009 to 2017, the proportion of U.K. 25- to 34-year-old U.K. workers who attributed their absence to mental health conditions increased from 7.2 percent to 9.6 percent, according to ONS. Similarly, a study conducted by researchers at the University of South Australia and Deakin University in Melbourne found nearly a quarter of the Australian workforce suffers from mild depression that leads to 50 hours of absenteeism per person per year.
When employees with mental health concerns are at work, they’re less likely to be productive, according to a Mental Health Australia and KPMG report. With workplace mental health issues costing the economy $12.8 billion a year, the two organizations estimate working with employers to improve mental health and well-being — through initiatives such as preventative interventions aimed at mitigating a broad range of psychosocial risks — could result in $4.5 billion in savings.
For more information about improving employee well-being and reducing stress in the workplace, view our blog posts on the most effective features to include in an employee wellness program, decreasing stress in an office environment, respecting employees’ time off — and even urging them to take it, 4 ways to improve an existing wellness program and which three factors to watch out for that can affect work-life balance.