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What does absenteeism really cost?

Companies are losing more than R12bn annually due to absenteeism.

Companies are losing more than R12 billion annually due to absenteeism in South Africa. According to Stats SA, in 2000, 0.7 million workers were absent from work, which is a fraction compared to the 397% leap it took up until 2012. A third of public sector workers were absent for health reasons, compared to 9.2% of private sector workers.

Managing absence is critical for all organisations, regardless of size and industry. The impact that organisations feel with regards to efficiency, operations and cost effectiveness is huge. A large portion of absenteeism can be attributed to ill health absences. Employers are entitled to dismiss employees who are too sick to work or who cannot attend work on a regular basis. All that is required is that the employer follows a fair procedure in that dismissal. 

The process of managing and reducing absenteeism has to occur within the confines of a constitutional right to fair labour practices and the Code of Good Practice in the Labour Relations Act on Dismissals. A balancing act needs to occur between the operational needs of the employer and the rights of employees but ultimately the employer still needs to run their organisation efficiently.

The following guidelines are suggested in order to manage and reduce absenteeism in the workplace: take note of when absence occurs and take action immediately; develop an absenteeism policy and ensure all employees are aware of such; monitor and enforce absenteeism policies consistently and fairly amongst the organisation; convene return to work interviews as they can provide understanding for reasons for absence; allow employees to select and swap shifts at short notice as such flexibility has been shown to reduce absenteeism; and implement a wide range of business tools to monitor and control absence levels and trends. One of the best tools we have found is a return to work interview done with every employee who is absent for ill health. Here the employer records the absence and offer assistance on the back of the reality that the employer requires regular attendance.

Beyond policy and independent monitoring, however, the best way for managers to handle absenteeism in the workplace is to have a direct and robust approach to dealing with this ever increasing problem. Communication should demonstrate how absenteeism affects colleagues’ workloads as well as their units’ productivity and profitability. Solutions should include making employees aware that their absenteeism is being recorded and that the business is doing all it can from its end to remedy problems.

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