At the same time that many workers have been trying to be on their best behavior for fear of losing their jobs and having to join the ranks of the unemployed, the pressure on them to work longer hours and take on greater levels of responsibility to compensate for staff cutbacks has been enormous. The result is that this current recession has, in one way or another, contributed greatly to increases in employee absenteeism at a time when, of course, companies which have been hit hard are striving for higher levels of productivity. As work/life balances have become increasingly out of kilter, the effects have taken their toll mentally, physically and emotionally, and not just on those lower down the hierarchy, but on a great many senior managers whose input is vital to their organizations.
In many companies, the reaction to high levels of absenteeism is to come down hard on workers and, with such a high proportion of employers suspecting that a significant number of sick absences are not legitimate, in some ways this is perhaps not very surprising. The question needs to be asked though, as to whether reprimands from HR and line managers really do anything to improve the situation. Would it not be better to manage absenteeism proactively rather than castigating workers after the event, especially when you bear in mind that the short, frequent and unplanned absences which can be typical are much more disruptive to organizations than longer, planned ones?
So, as these are issues which sit firmly within the realm of the HR department, just what can HR professionals do to head off issues surrounding absenteeism? First of all, of course, they need to get a clear idea of the extent of the problem and of precisely what it is costing the company. Aside from anything else, this will help to justify any proposed action to get things back under control. The next thing though, is to put together a parcel of work which is designed to get to the root of the fundamental reasons behind absenteeism, and these will naturally vary from organization to organization. Is it, for example, poor working conditions which are causing or exacerbating the problem, or low levels of motivation, a lack of recognition and appreciation or high levels of job insecurity? Once they have got to the bottom of these, companies can then start to consider whether things such as offering flexible working hours or providing health education or free health screening might not be worth the investment compared to suffering the financial losses incurred by frequent, short-term absences.