Workplace absenteeism has important consequences

Sick days cost Canada an estimated $16.6 billion each year (2013), with an average of 9.3 sick days taken per year per full-time employee1, where surprisingly, 54% of Canadians are faking how sick they really are.2 Unfortunately, employee absenteeism has important consequences that extend far beyond the financial impact, and may be taking a toll on the health of your employees. At company level, chronic or accumulated absenteeism can lead to decreased productivity and performance, as well as increased stress and overwork for coworkers or managers coping with the resulting backlog of work. This in turn can contribute to low company morale and strained employee relations.

Yet when it comes to addressing absenteeism, responsibility lies as much with the employer as it does with the employee.

Turning to social media and technology

When examining the impact of absenteeism on organizations and employees, it is not surprising employers are doing some investigating on frequently absent employees. In an age of 24/7 online connection, there is no better place to start than social media. Employers are also increasingly turning to other innovative measures to address unjustified absences, including so-called Big Data strategies, which analyze absence trends across connected to holidays, weather and sporting events. Specialized absence-management systems which require employees to log their days off with a call center so that they can be tracked and stored are also gaining popularity. Finally, gaming strategies provide non-tangible rewards (like recognition and positive feedback) for employees who successfully “play the game” of attendance. However, such innovations require careful forethought and legal advice, depending on the country and the jurisdiction. In addition, the risk of an employer being seen to be “policing” employees might breed a sense of mistrust and resentment in staff.

Stress and Musculoskeletal (MSK) diseases

Before tracking their employees, companies might need to better focus on why it is that they are staying home, legitimately or not. Seasonal ailments aside, stress, exhaustion and musculoskeletal conditions have all been found to be major reasons for absenteeism. According to survey statistics, 65% of those who admitted to faking sick time did so because they were feeling stressed, while 13% attributed it to being overworked.2 It’s also estimated that 11 million Canadians over the age of 12 are affected by musculoskeletal diseases, which is predicted to rise to 15 million by 2031 due to the aging baby boomer population.3

MSK diseases can range from pulled muscles to chronic back pain. When not properly addressed, they can become important and debilitating health issues, which are estimated to cost the Canadian economy more than $22 billion each year, with injuries costing an additional $15 billion annually. “Although the direct costs of MSK diseases and injury are high (e.g., hospital care, physician visits, rehabilitation prescription drugs), three-quarters of the overall costs are indirect (e.g., absence from work and lost potential earnings, underperformance at work).”4

The importance of employee well being

Monitoring absenteeism is one thing, yet more and more organizations are becoming aware of the need for policies, programs, and employee benefits that address employees’ health before it becomes an issue. Such initiatives might include counselling, expert medical advice and physiotherapy support. Additionally, “research suggests that the more positive the work environment and employee-employer relationship, the less likely employees are to miss work.”1

Best Doctors believes that employee wellbeing is a cornerstone of any successful organization. Our services form an important part of employee benefits packages around the world and make a real difference to employee health and quality of life.

  1. The Conference Board of Canada: Missing in Action
  2. HRInsider: Understanding HR Policies
  3. Canadian Institutes of Health Research: IMHA Facts & Figures
  4. Canadian Institutes of Health Research: IMHA Strategic Plan 2014 – 2018