Combating Absenteeism

The zombie apocalypse is upon us. It’s real, and according to recent studies it costs employers billions. But the zombies aren’t taking the form of the undead rising from the grave in a quest to consume the living. Instead, they take the form of exhausted, sick, injured, or demoralized employees showing up to work yet not performing to their full potential.

That’s the conclusion of a new study out of Brigham Young University, which determined that when it comes to damage to employers, the cost ratio of presenteeism versus absenteeism is three to one.

Researchers found that presenteeism was highly correlated with outside factors, including poor health, poor eating habits, financial stress, relationship problems, and other emotional problems originating outside the company. Workers become stressed and distracted and, because they are only human, their problems spill over into the workplace.

According to its chief researcher, the study looked at more than 20,000 workers. Among its findings:

  • Those with bad diets were 66% more susceptible to presenteeism than those with healthy diets.
  • Smokers reported productivity losses 28% more often than nonsmokers.
  • Regular exercisers were 50% less likely than those who only exercised “occasionally” to succumb to presenteeism.

Contributing Factors
In addition to the normal litany of unavoidable minor issues, such as sick children at home or minor financial matters, employee problems can arise if management shuts down important stress valves:

Putting too much emphasis on attendance in workplace performance reviews
Disciplining or stigmatizing workers who call in sick on short notice
Expending managers’ valuable time “verifying” illnesses (a cost sink in itself!)

The Solution
The authors of the study concluded that the use of the cat-o’-nine-tails to improve workplace morale is probably suboptimal. Instead, they suggested some basic leadership and resourcing measures, such as helping managers and workers prioritize what is important and providing “sufficient technological support.” Other suggestions included implementing targeted wellness programs designed to address employees’ specific stressors. For example, where employees may be struggling with financial stressors, distracting them from their work, make financial-planning services available. If health issues are paramount, establish programs to help workers stop smoking, improve eating habits, and address physical and mental health issues.

Lowering presenteeism will require that employers have realistic expectations of workers, help workers prioritize, and provide sufficient technological support. Financial stress and concerns may warrant financial planning services. Health-promotion interventions aimed at improving physical and mental health also may contribute to reducing presenteeism.

Other ideas include sponsoring a workplace flu vaccination program, sending sick workers home immediately, and implementing a “no questions asked” PTO policy, as opposed to segregating sick days and personal-leave days. Leaders can also reward and encourage midline managers who are creative in allowing staffers flexible work arrangements — though care should still be taken to comply with wage and hour laws.

At Cleary, we know how important a comprehensive benefits package can be to your continued success. Give us a call today at 617-723-0700 and we will work with you to create a plan that meets your business objectives, takes into account state and federal laws, and capitalizes on incentives and innovative solutions now being offered.