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Putting the Brakes on EMPLOYEE ABSENTEEISM.

More workers than ever before am staying homo to combat stress or simply because they feel entitled to a day off, the 1999 CCH Unscheduled Absence Survey by CCH Inc., Riverwoods, III., found. Meanwhile, as workers clearly signal distress, employers have been slow to heed the warning signs. Even those who recognize the effectiveness of certain work-life and absence-control programs have been somewhat sluggish to implement new practices.

Personal illness and family issues tied as the two most common reasons for unscheduled absences, each at 21%, followed by personal needs (20%). Quickly gaining as reasons were stress and entitlement mentality, each accounting for 19% of unscheduled absences. Stress has seen a 316% increase as a reason for absenteeism since 1995.

One reason for added stress may be the number of hours Americans are working. A report by the International Labour Organization indicated that American workers are putting in significantly more hours on the job annually (1,966) than their counterparts in other industrial countries. Additional cause for concern comes from various studies that indicate, when employees who are suffering from stress are at work, they are less likely to be productive.

"Employees are tapped out on hours put into work. It shouldn't be a surprise that they're stressed out as they attempt to juggle long hours and personal demands," indicates Nancy Kaylor, a human resources analyst for CCH's Health and Human Resources group. "But when stress reaches a level where workers aren't working, this should signal an alarm to employers that they can only push so far."

Employers recognize certain work-life programs can be effective in controlling absenteeism. However, despite the significant cost of unscheduled absenteeism--as high as $602 per employee annually--many companies have been slow to implement these types of initiatives.

The survey examined a variety of work-life programs and asked respondents to rank their effectiveness in controlling unexpected time off. On a scale of one to five, the top-ranked work-life programs for reducing unscheduled absences were child care referral (3.64), leave for school functions (3.59), flexible scheduling (3.54), emergency child care and compressed work week (both at 3.23), and on-site child care (3.15).

Yet, when it comes to what work-life programs employers actually have in place, flexible scheduling (58%) was the only top-rated policy in use by more than one-half of employers, while 29% indicated adapting a compressed work week and 26% authorized leave for school functions. Emergency child care was offered at 18% of companies, while on-site child care and child care referral were each available at 16%. While ranked sixth in controlling absenteeism, the single most used program was employee assistance (61%), which typically provides employees access to mental health professionals for assistance in coping with a wide range of personal issues--such as substance abuse and emotional problems.

"Not all work-life programs are appropriate for all companies, But organizations do need to have a good understanding of what programs will best support the needs of their employees and then weigh the investment of implementing these programs against the cost of not doing so," Kaylor points out. "With this knowledge, many organizations may be surprised to learn just how costly ignoring work-life programs can be to their organizations."

Among the initiatives to reduce absence, paid time off provides employees with a bank of hours to be used for various purposes instead of traditional separate accounts for sick, vacation, and personal time. Buy back programs offer compensation for not using all of their allotted time off. Many companies are turning to no-fault systems, which limit the number of unscheduled absences allowed, regardless of circumstances, and take specific disciplinary actions if that number is exceeded.

"While most companies have rules stating excessive absenteeism is grounds for discipline, many organizations leave the definition of what's excessive up to individual managers. This can cause confusion as well as open the company up to potential liability in a discrimination lawsuit," Kaylor explains.

"The no-fault approach defines a standard of attendance that is consistent for all employees throughout the company and applies this regardless of the circumstances for absences. This rigidity makes it more clear-cut and objective, but it is inflexible and does not accommodate any special circumstances."

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Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2000
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