Employee Absenteeism

A Guide to Managing Absence



the Irish Business and Employers Confederation

or by any information storage or retrieval systems. or for any errors. electronic or mechanical. without the prior permission of the publishers. © No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means. . Member organisations are invited to consult IBEC in this regard.Employee Absenteeism A Guide to Managing Absence Report Author: Anne Coughlan Senior Research Executive IBEC Research andInformation Service September 2004 This Absence Management Guide is for information purposes only and IBEC assumes no responsibility for any use to which the information may be put. The guide is not a substitute for specialist industrial relations and/or legal advice where appropriate.

Table of Contents Introduction 4 1 Measuring Absence How is absence measured? What is included/excluded as absence? Other measures of absence Number of spells or frequency of absence The Bradford Score Calculating the Bradford Score 6 6 6 6 6 7 8 2 Recording Absence Why record absence? Advantages of monitoring and recording absence How should absence be recorded? Who should record absence? Data Protection Acts 1988 and 2003 9 9 9 10 11 11 2 3 Cost of Absence Calculating the cost of absence TABLE 1: Costs included in the calculation of absence Checklist for calculating the cost of absence 12 12 12 13 4 Causes of Absence Why do employees not attend work? Causes – short-term absence TABLE 2: Causes of short-term absence – males TABLE 3: Causes of short-term absence – females Causes – long-term absence TABLE 4: Causes of long-term absence – males Absence and stress TABLE 5: Causes of long-term absence – females Absence and alcohol Other causes of absence 15 15 16 17 17 18 18 18 19 19 19 IBEC Research and Information Service .

5 Absence Management Strategies An absence management policy Absence management measures – short-term absence The role of the line manager FIG.1: Measures used for managing short-term absence Return to work interviews An alternative approach Absence triggers Flexible working arrangements Restricting sick pay Counselling/advice services Attendance bonus Health education/wellness management programmes Other measures – monitoring when absences occur Managing long-term absence FIG.2004 30 33 41 41 43 43 9 An International Perspective on Absence The United Kingdom The European Union The United States 45 45 45 46 A Guide to Managing Absence 2004 .3: Measures used for managing long-term absence 20 20 20 20 21 21 23 24 25 25 25 26 26 27 27 28 28 28 29 3 6 7 8 Disciplinary Procedures Case Studies Absence and the Law Employment Appeals Tribunal cases and absence (Unfair Dismissals Acts. 1969 and 1990 Employment Equality Acts 1998 . 1997-2001) Industrial Relations Acts.2: Working time lost –short-term and long-term Long-term absence strategy Rehabilitation/reintegration FIG.

A certain level of absence is to be expected. as employees may have to be absent from work as a result of illness. such as bullying and/or harassment. instead of coming to work and either passing on their illness to other staff. plus the indirect costs associated with the effects of absence on. The absent employees themselves and their dependants may have a reduced income as a result of absence. a payment made to insured persons who are unfit for work due to illness) in 2002 was €385. production and quality. Because of competitive pressures. however. Employees can feel they have been treated unfairly when they perceive other absent employees as ‘getting away with it’. for both males and females. A recent IBEC survey 2 showed that personal problems were cited as a cause of absence in a significant number of companies. When absence is not addressed or addressed in an inconsistent manner. Employees. or returning to work too early and getting a more severe illness. unnecessary levels of absence. companies can no longer afford to carry unnecessary absence that they may have tolerated in the past.. there is the loss of potential output. themselves. For example. or at least reducing. apart from sickness. The notion of what constitutes absenteeism has changed through the years as employees statutory leave entitlements and authorised company-level leave have increased. which could. plus the increased government spend on social security payments.6 million in 2002.2004’ Irish Business and Employers Confederation (IBEC) 3 Federated Union of Employers ‘Absenteeism Control: A Practical Handbook for Management Action’ 1980 IBEC Research and Information Service . as well as causing long-term damage to the employee.e. stress. overtime and staff replacement costs. Absence can also be a symptom of a more serious underlying problem. But absence control is not just about cost. for example. Invalidity pension (payable instead of disability benefit if a person has been incapable of work for at least 12 months) cost the State €403. communication breakdown. in order to meet deadlines. also may have personal circumstances that require them to take time off work.Government Publications 2 ‘Workplace Absence Survey . In the majority of cases. the cost to the State of disability benefit (i. have the right to expect responsible absence behaviour when a healthy working environment is provided. Employers are affected by direct costs such as sick pay. In 19803 the Federated Union of Employers (FUE) defined absenteeism as ‘all absence from work other than planned holidays’. The co-workers of an absent employee may have to work under increased pressure. if not investigated. From an economic point of view. etc. Absence affects more than just the person who is absent. management time and the potential loss of customers. many companies are focusing on the issue of eliminating. Over half of the companies in the IBEC survey thought that it would be possible to reduce their absence rates. Nowadays.41 million. Therefore. lead to significant costs to the organisation. Employers. employees are acting responsibly by staying at home to recover. besides incurring possible additional medical expenses. lower morale can result.Introduction A bsence control can often be an important step in the process of reducing business costs. employees can be absent from work for any 4 1 ‘Statistical Information on Social Welfare Services 2002’ Department of Social and Family Affairs .

As only a portion of absence days are subject to organisation control – it is important to determine what portion of employee absence is avoidable.’ (Electronics company. p504 in Blennerhassett.’ which was based on responses received from 557 private sector companies employing 147. etc. parental leave. The recent IBEC study found that over half of the respondents did not consider they had a problem with absence.e. E. Historically.). or under arrangements agreed at an individual company level (such as compassionate or bereavement leave. the necessity to find ways of reducing costs. in addition to needing to find an ‘acceptable’ level of absence. the company makes a saving of €250.000 on sick pay and overtime alone.000 employees. there has also been a shift away from viewing the term absenteeism solely as a pejorative term. In the past the term has been associated mainly with the notion of ‘malingering’ or ‘pretending’ to be sick (for example Moore 4 in 1977 defined absenteeism as ‘the practice of workers failing to report for work on some slight excuse or none at all’). E and Gorman.one of a number of reasons. training. P (1986) ‘Absenteeism in the Public Service – Information Systems and Control Strategies’ Dublin: IPA A Guide to Managing Absence 2004 . force majeure and carer’s leave). where a proportion of their employees are away on any particular day. This guide sets out to provide information and assistance in relation to absence management and is divided into a number of sections as follows: x x x x ‘For every 1% drop in absence rates. Many organisations appear to accept a certain level of absence i. to also identifying and addressing the underlying causes or conditions. (1977) ‘Industrial Relations and the Social Order’. 4 Moore. either under statutory leave entitlement (such as – annual leave. marriage leave. However. maternity or adoptive leave. more than four out of ten companies in the survey considered their absence levels to be a cause for concern. This report contains data from the IBEC ‘Workplace Absence Survey 2004. in South-East region employing 500+ staff) 5 Measuring absence – how it is calculated – is there more than one method? Recording absence – why and how should this be done? Cost of absence – what should be included? Causes of absence – what are the causes – are there differences for different groups of employees? Absence management strategies – what are companies doing about short and long-term absence? Disciplinary procedures – what are the steps? Case studies – how do different companies deal with absence? Absence and the law – what do I need to know? An international perspective on absence – how are other countries faring with absence? x x x x x IBEC member companies are requested to contact the IBEC Research and Information Service or their IR/HR executive for further information on any of the issues covered in this report. study and/or exam leave. Concern about absence can be triggered by high levels of absence.

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