Absenteeism management
The first step to successfully manage absenteeism is to be aware that the problem exists.

Absenteeism management methodologies have been developing significantly only in the last twenty years. This discipline is still known as one of the most complex in the field of human resource management because it requires integrated knowledge and tools from different categories: from labor law and sociology, through medicine to information technology and psychology.

However, absenteeism management is primarily a management discipline, so companies are increasingly looking for human resource managers who have certain knowledge and skills that allow them to reduce the cost of absenteeism, in order to improve overall productivity and business efficiency.

Lack of knowledge and tools in human resource management

Nevertheless, absenteeism management has not yet established itself as an important skill within the category of people management. This is best illustrated by a paradox that is easy to spot in companies, in all countries of the wider region. Namely, although it is declaratively stated that people are a strategic resource of every company, managers often do not act accordingly.

For example, if an average company asks a logistics or production manager how many vehicles or machines are out of order at the moment, it is likely that a fairly accurate answer will follow about the number of units that are not currently part of the business process. But if the human resources manager is asked the same simple question about the number of workers who did not come to work that day, it is very questionable whether the appropriate information will be obtained.

One of the reasons for this situation is the fact that data on the number of workers who were absent from the work process are not available to management, but are dispersed among lower managers. As a rule, workers inform their immediate superior about their absence, and on that occasion, there is an exchange of certain information that can be used to manage someone who is educated for that. However, a manager at this level rarely has an overview of the whole situation, which combined with a lack of knowledge and tools to manage absenteeism does not result in any reaction.

Do you want to get an insight into the real reasons for the absence of your employees? See how Improv3 can help you with that.

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Another possible reason is related to the general position of the management of most business systems on taking responsibility for solving the problem of unplanned absences.

It has been repeatedly noted in the public that the representatives of employers believe that the problem of absenteeism, and especially sick leave, should be solved by “someone else”, ie in this case the state. Accordingly, they address the problem to the health or social pension system (doctors and laws are to blame) without taking any measures to prevent or reduce such phenomena.

Such an attitude of employers is in contrast to the environment that includes at least three participants in the process of absenteeism management: employers, workers and the state (health and social system). All three participants strongly influence the emergence of absenteeism, but only with employers can something be achieved in a relatively short period of time by introducing a sick leave management model. In parallel, work should be done to improve the legislative framework that will better define the rights and obligations of workers who are justifiably absent from the work process, ie to improve procedures in the public health system in order to avoid waiting for services that unnecessarily prolong sick leave.

How to successfully manage absenteeism

As long as people are involved in business processes, absenteeism will exist. The question is what to do when the absence of workers becomes so significant that it prevents the regular conduct of business processes, that is, when absenteeism grows into a problem of reduced competitiveness of the final economic output.

The first step towards successful absenteeism management is the awareness that the problem exists at all. Namely, the problem is often downplayed or denied without real insight into the situation, ie without a systematic and precise measurement of the level of the problem or its consequences. One of the possible causes should be sought in the way absenteeism is measured, which in most cases is not detailed enough, ie it relies on methods that are considered to be somewhat outdated.

For a real insight into the level of the problem, it is necessary to measure several dimensions of the problem (duration, frequency and costs) and express the results through several indicators. One of the important elements is the indicator of the frequency of sick leave, which measures the number of individual cases of sickness per unit of time. This can be a big problem because, as already mentioned, in companies data records are kept exclusively for the purpose of calculating salaries, not absenteeism management, so therefore individual cases of sick leave are not recorded, only the number of remittances is recorded (remittances are administrative markers with for a completely different purpose). Thus, one sick leave may have several remittances depending on how long the sick leave lasted (for example, a remittance is issued at the end of a calendar month even though the sick leave has not ended).

Establishing indicator measurement system

A number of different indicators have been established for the purposes of absenteeism management. In addition to the standard “Lost time ratio” or the ratio of the number of hours of absence in relation to the number of hours of regular work, the usual indicator of the duration of sick leave is the number of hours (days) of absence per employee.

To measure the frequency of absences, the indicator of the individual frequency rate is of great importance, which represents the ratio of the number of workers who were absent at least once in relation to the total number of workers. Many employers are surprised by the obtained values ​​of this indicator because it often turns out that 2/3 of their workers have been on sick leave at least once in one year.

There are a number of other advanced indicators for measuring absenteeism, such as the “Incidence rate”, the “Inactivity rate” and the “Severity rate”.

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The establishment of an indicator measurement system is a prerequisite for the implementation of any measures to manage absenteeism. Only after the causes have been identified and the consequences measured, is it possible to begin some of the measures to reduce the negative impact of absenteeism on business.

The introduction of absenteeism management primarily means defining a management strategy depending on the types of absenteeism, the extent of the apparent presence of workers and the organization’s ability to implement certain measures to reduce adverse events. After defining and adopting the strategy, it is possible to initiate the implementation of measures to reduce the costs of absences, and these measures are divided into intervention and prevention.

Absenteeism management methods

Although there are a large number of tools and methods for managing absenteeism that an employer can use in practice, a model that involves any form of advanced care for workers is always the best solution. As a rule, such a model integrates business process management, improvement of organizational culture, improvement of the health condition of the working population and procedures of supervision and control, all while respecting the principles of socially responsible business.

Methods that involve repression or any activities that can negatively affect the organizational culture, in the long run, cause the employer a range of problems from increased costs of caring for sick workers to a large number of lawsuits with a very uncertain outcome. As absenteeism management is still a relatively unknown area for most employers, good world practice recommends that such activities be carried out by persons or entities who have the necessary knowledge and skills (so-called Absence managers).

If absenteeism management is intended to be carried out with the help of internal resources, then these workers need to be trained for the job because otherwise, the consequences could be incalculable. Once introduced, wrong methods of absenteeism management forever contaminate the organization, and subsequent corrections are almost impossible to implement due to the loss of trust of workers and their representatives in the real intentions of the employer.

Simply put, if it happens through repressive measures that really sick workers have to come to work and therefore suffer some bodily harm, the subsequent introduction of the advanced health care model will be greeted with distrust and hostility because (taught by previous experience) workers will perceive it as another form previously implemented wrong measures.

Examples of bad practice in absenteeism management

When an employer is faced with frequent and prolonged absences of workers from the work process, it has a natural urge to introduce measures that involve some kind of repression. The company’s management, most often intuitively and based on experience with a small number of exposed cases of absenteeism, draws potentially wrong conclusions about possible patterns or the size of the absenteeism problem in the organization.

In most cases, this means taking the view that there is “a lot” of abuse of sick leave in the organization, although objectively there are only a few unproven cases that have been highly exposed, mostly by lower managers. Such a generalization necessarily leads to a situation where, for example, all illnesses are declared an undesirable phenomenon that urgently needs to be “dealt with”. This is usually followed by the introduction of “logical” measures such as financial disincentives for absences or degradation of workers who are absent, regardless of the real reasons for this phenomenon.

A certain atmosphere of fear is created in the organization, where workers believe that in case of absence they will be sanctioned in some way, ie that they will not be able to prove the objective reasons for their absence. In such a model, the employer usually introduces some kind of “bonus” according to the attendance criteria (for example: the employee may not be absent for more than 1 day a month) and which is paid only to employees who meet the set criteria.

Stressed employee

Any model of absenteeism management that is repressive in nature generally has a very negative impact on the organizational culture and reputation of the employer in the context of corporate social responsibility. Financial disincentives to absenteeism can have the exact opposite effect in terms of costs, because due to possible financial loss (or fear of degradation), workers who are really ill do not go on sick leave or return from it earlier without recovery. If this practice continues, the disease becomes chronic in such workers, and after a certain period of time, these workers become partially or completely incapable of work.

However, in the last few years, a trend has slowly but surely emerged among employers to introduce one of the more acceptable models of sick leave management into the organization instead of repressive measures, which implies advanced health care for workers. Only in this way it is possible to eliminate the negative consequences of frequent absences of workers from the work process while raising the level of employee satisfaction. Such an approach, along with the application of other tools and methods for performance management, significantly improves work productivity, and ultimately the competitiveness of the entire company.

Damir Kovačević, Vice President at Absence Insight


Do you want to get an insight into the real reasons for the absence of your employees? See how Improv3 can help you with that.

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