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Why Are The Reasons Behind Absenteeism Being Overlooked?

There was an overwhelming urge to better understand what absenteeism looks like in the workforce, according to the 2019 Sanofi Canada Healthcare Survey. With four out of five plan sponsors highlighting the immediate need to focus on the real reasons behind it, it’s time we make the strong business case to address what happens behind the scenes to lead up to absenteeism.

What is absenteeism?  

Absenteeism is an employee’s intentional or habitual absence from work. It means they are absent from the entire day of work. Compared to how presenteeism is defined, with workers being on the job, but because of a physical or emotional issue, they’re not fully functioning or distracted, it really shows how these twin issues are rippling through the modern workforce.

The causes of absenteeism could be anything from:

  • burnout,
  • stress,
  • low morale,
  • bullying/harassment,
  • lack of sleep,
  • depression,
  • disengagement,
  • or suffering from a mental illness.

So if presenteeism is the silent threat to workplace productivity – then its not-so-distant cousin absenteeism is the bottom-line killer.

Why absenteeism hurts productivity and profits

The Office of National Statistics report found nearly 16 million days were lost in a year due to sickness related to mental health, and is estimated that the total annual costs related to lost productivity due to absenteeism total $84 billion.

And when you peel back the layers to the core reasons behind absenteeism, which have direct ties to burnout and work-related stress, it results in $125 to $190 billion per year in healthcare costs and higher administrative costs, as it affects everything from employee engagement, productivity, safety, and retention.

While the economic impact of those cumulative days all cripple individual balance sheets differently, and do vary by industry, it’s an increasing concern that extends deeply beyond the numbers.

Companies are only as good as the people that make them up. And it’s a growing issue because the health of a company relies heavily on the health of the people that comprise it.

So when these big figures get tossed around at a high-level, they need to get broken down further as to the real reason behind absenteeism in the workplace.

Mental health, burnout and chronic disease directly link to absenteeism

Calling in sick doesn’t just mean that someone is ill. More often than not, it’s just used as a blanket term that can cover everything from depression to a lack of sleep to burnout. The World Health Organization even went as far as declaring burnout as an official “occupational phenomenon” this year with it spreading to be a serious, widespread health concern to really signify the gravity of this.

Excessive absences can equate to decreased productivity and can have a major effect on company finances and overall morale – not to mention how it’s hard to push a team forward with the sheer loss of manpower.

What is interesting to note is how all of these are interconnected with each other.

According to the 2018 Sanofi survey, approximately 25% of the global population suffers from stress, sleep issues, back pain and headaches every week. And more than half of plan members (54%) reported having at least one chronic disease within this years’ data. So it is really no surprise that more than a quarter of workers have taken time off work in the past month as a result of feeling helpless, overwhelmed and out of control due to these common health conditions.

What can businesses do to curb this alarming trend?

When you look at the data pouring in, it really drives home the need to focus on the real reasons behind absenteeism in order to truly prevent extended absences from work, reduce disability claims and ultimately step up to take better care of the health of our workforce.

Here are five areas on how to change the culture around employee absences.

  1. Watch out for the warning signs: People who are drowning don’t wave their hands in the air and shout for help, they slip silently beneath the waves and only trained life guards tend to spot people in trouble.’

Whether it be a change in mood, out of character behaviour, a decrease in work output/quality, longer lunch breaks or repeated unexplained absences; leaders and managers must be trained to see the signals of stress.

  1. Early interventions needed: There is growing concern around the use of members’ disability benefit. When you have early intervention programs put in place, such as chronic disease management or mental health practitioners, it can encourage and foster a positive culture around how to get help for mental health concerns and burnout without the associated stigma.
  1. Better tracking methods: It can be challenging for employers to effectively monitor, control and reduce absenteeism, especially because it can be tricky to distinguish between legitimate and poor reasons. Having written notes from doctors can help, but the limited ability to accurately and regularly track absenteeism impacts a businesses’ bottom line earnings more than they know.
  1. Openness around mental health: When there is healthy discourse in-house discussing issues honestly and head on, it can lead to a happier, healthier and more productive workforce. Take mental health issues seriously and systematically destigmatize them by providing resourses, modelling the behavior you want people to see, talking to people and connecting them in a support network. Many times, employees will hide their symptoms out of fear of repercussions, and every conversation you have on the topic can help change the communication and culture.
  1. Have the tools in place to manage issues: There are many positive steps that can be taken to lessen the effects of absenteeism in the workplace. Having a robust health benefits plan with a spotlight on digital mental health services and health coaching will let employees know there has been this investment made in them where they have a support system in place and are not alone in this.

Absenteeism is rapidly taking its toll on employees and employers. In our high-octane work culture we’ve manifested to be the norm, it is a collective journey that all leaders and managers need to play in order to nip this worrying trend in the bud. And while absenteeism has been labelled as ‘the bottom-line killer’ – it’s time we focused more on the people and not just on profits.