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SHRM/Kronos Study Says Absenteeism Hits Coworkers Hard

Earlier this year, SHRM and Kronos conducted a study of the impact of employee absence on organizations and employees.  The holiday season is, of course, particularly hard hit with employee absences.  We've done research on this topic before, though the emphasis has been largely on the financial impact of absence.  This study, like the prior research, underscores the greater impact that unplanned absenteeism has on the bottom line.

Unlike the prior research, though, we asked questions about the impact on coworkers. What we found was that the party affected most by unplanned absences seems to be colleagues, as the study shows that their perceived productivity loss is most affected (29.5% productivity loss for co-workers in the U.S.).  Coworkers report feeling more stressed when their colleagues are out, especially when those absences are unplanned.

Absences, planned or otherwise, are going to happen.  People have lots of legitimate reasons why they need time off - childcare, elder care, illness, appointments, and also the need to recharge once in a while.  Organizations can't avoid absences, but there are things they can do to mitigate the impact of absenteeism in the workplace:

  1. Implement an absence policy. If you do not have one already, an absence policy to balance employee and employer needs is the first step in addressing the potential problem.
  2. Communicate the policy. There's little point in having an absence policy if you do not communicate it to employees.
  3. Encourage proactive communications between managers and staff about requests to take time off, or to work a different schedule.  Unplanned absences are more expensive to manage than those you know are coming.
  4. Support flexibility.  Not everybody celebrates the same holidays, and people may be willing to swap shifts to accommodate coworkers.  But make sure that you have a system in place to cope with monitoring the flex hours.
  5. Enforce the absence policy. Any absence policy needs to be monitored and enforced consistently and fairly throughout the organization to curb unscheduled absences - more than half of employed adults believe that their work performance is negatively impacted when attendance policies are not fairly enforced.
  6. Provide incentives for excellent attendance. Many organizations effectively use perfect attendance bonuses as an incentive to reduce absenteeism.
  7. Be realistic about absence during the holidays.  Try not to start projects that require all hands on deck when increased absence is likely.
  8. Make controlling absenteeism a business priority. There's no excuse not to be in control of absence. Business tools are available to control and monitor absence levels and trends.

For more ideas about how to manage absenteeism during the holidays, you can listen to this podcast conversation between Sharlyn Lauby, the HR Bartender and retired Girl Scouts of Eastern Mass CEO Ruth Bramson.

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