Gauteng Business News

Send  Share  RSS  Twitter  30 Jun 2011

HR: Failure to Manage Absenteeism Costs Business


Recent Gauteng Business News

Young people and females in particular have the highest work absenteeism rate in South Africa.

Assisting over 60 South African organisations manage absenteeism in the workplace has helped Dr. Lerato Motshudi, Medical Advisor, Alexander Forbes Health, identify some interesting trends in absenteeism in South Africa.

Young couples with small children, especially young mothers, are the most likely to be absent from work during school holidays or due to domestic demands. That said young people in general, whether single or living with a partner, also need very little incentive to miss a day’s work - especially before or after weekends or public holidays. Absenteeism numbers are even higher in winter.

According to Dr Motshudi, absenteeism is one of the major drivers of lost revenue for companies in South Africa. As such, “if managers don’t understand and manage this problem it can have major implications for productivity and ultimately balance sheets.”

The first step in dealing with absenteeism is to put systems in place to monitor and analyse its occurrence. Once data is available, managers can use this to identify problem areas and take appropriate action. Keeping tabs and developing data helps businesses to identify “how many of which employees, in what areas of specialisation, gender, and age group are costing the company the most in absenteeism” says Dr. Motshudi. The purpose is not to victimize any employees but rather to get a better understanding of where absenteeism is costing the business and to help managers develop interventions that identify and then correctly tackle the correct drivers of absenteeism.

The worst thing to do is nothing.

“Our experience has shown that absenteeism can be reduced once the right people are engaged sympathetically on the issue. If ignored it only increases” says Dr. Motshudi.

Every person has a unique set of circumstances that may cause them to skip work. Understanding these circumstances and developing solutions that directly address the causes of absenteeism often takes time. This is why “many companies choose to outsource the management of absenteeism, or consult experts to help develop the best ways to deal with it” says Dr Motshudi.

Certainly, the drivers of absenteeism differ hugely between companies or even within companies and can be driven by a range of factors within a business.

For example, one division of a business may experience higher than average absenteeism rates because of a unique managerial issue whereas another department may not have a manager who struggles with staff relations and therefore does not have the same rate of absenteeism. Alternately, a company dealing with hazardous goods may experience high absenteeism in a particular area because safety standards are not being properly implemented, increasing injuries and driving up absenteeism.

Dr. Motshudi and her team have also found that many people just don’t understand their employment contracts.

For example, when employees join a company it is necessary to clarify which religious holidays are counted as company holidays and which require the employee to apply for annual leave. Basic conditions of employment provide three days off for recognised religious holidays. Anything beyond that will have to be taken from annual leave. “Not knowing this in advance often drives opportunistic leave taking once employees have used up their leave” explains Dr. Motshudi.

Pregnancy can be another high driver of absenteeism. Pregnant women need to go for regular check-ups which may require them to take sick leave. Mothers-to-be tend to be unhappy with taking sick leave or using their leave for pre-natal medical and health issues as they are saving days for a longer maternity leave. As such ”companies that do not recognise half-day leave may find themselves with a higher number of absent pregnant females” warns Dr. Motshudi.

Chronic diseases tend to keep employees away from work for longer. This presents a challenge for companies since employees are not compelled by law to disclose their diagnoses. Under these conditions, it is not easy for organisations to monitor absenteeism properly. As such, using objective third parties to monitor absenteeism can be useful especially if these are equipped to follow-up on reasons for long absences while advising managers on future anticipated leave days without breaking confidentiality.

Monitoring absenteeism within the organisation not only allows managers to uncover problems that require further attention, such as chronic diseases or compliance with safety standards, but also creates an opportunity for managers to have frank discussions with their employees while getting to know more about their personal challenges.

All these issues need to be clarified in company policy and, moreover, recognised as fair by all employees if absenteeism is to be successfully managed.

Beyond policy and independent monitoring, however, the best way for managers to handle absenteeism in the workplace is to continuously consult with their employees to iron out potential problems. 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.

Thereafter, if absenteeism persists, businesses have the right, in line with the Labour Relations Act, to warn employees, hold disciplinary hearings, investigate circumstances around the absences and attempt to accommodate employees accordingly. Ultimately, however, “employers would be justified in instituting dismissal procedures for employees who do not comply” concludes Dr Motshudi.

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