Workplace Absenteeism

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Abstract

Absenteeism in the workplace can have significant impacts on productivity and profitability. As a result, companies are under immense pressure to understand the causes of absenteeism and work to address them in order to manage forecasted goals, productivity standards, and morale. The following will address the underlying causes of absenteeism and provide an analysis of current programs in place to address this issue. While underlying reasons for absenteeism are quite broad, this paper focuses on the issue of low morale resulting from disengagement. Research indicates that disengagement affects performance, increases employee turnover, lowers customer service satisfaction and increases absenteeism. Employee of the month programs have historically been used to attempt to address employee engagement by providing recognition incentive. However, it has intended consequences, and allows employees to “game” the system. It has also become outdated and its meaning and significance has declined. On the other hand, integrated program approaches which incorporate two way communication, flexibility, and career opportunities help to engage employees and decrease the problem of absenteeism.

Workplace Absenteeism

Some common reasons for absenteeism can be grouped into categories of morale, responsibilities, and self-care. The morale category includes workforce bullying and harassment, disengagement, burnout, stress and depression. In fact, the National Institute of Mental health advises that the leading cause of absenteeism is depression in the United States (Rost, Smith, & Dickinson, 2004). Depression can stem from personal crises and experiences as well feelings of burnout and frustration from job responsibilities, challenges, and fears. The responsibilities category includes child care and elder care when employees are forced to miss work so that they can address care giver duties. Job hunting can be considered another form of conflicting duty or responsibility. The self-care category includes factors such as illness or medical appointments, as well as injuries. While the problem of absenteeism is multi-faceted, companies have the most control over addressing factors related to morale in the workplace. Low morale is a significant problem because it is categorized by frustrated, disengaged, and stressed employees, and affects their ability to function properly to address the needs of the company. The issue of low morale, specifically as it relates to disengagement, presents a significant hindrance to company functionality and profitability and costs companies about $3,600 a year per hourly worker and $2,650 per salaried employee (Circadian, 2005). The following will address the strengths and weaknesses of programs to address disengagement and provide effective intervention solutions. While employee of the month recognition programs and have historically been used to address this issue, the “Better Feedback” program provides an integrated approach to addressing the underlying elements of disengagement that leads to absenteeism.

Potential Solutions

The issue of disengagement among the American employee population is significant. A recent Gallup poll report has revealed that 70% of the American workforce is disengaged (Gallup, 2013). Employees who are not committed to their jobs have no motivation to go to work, representing a significant portion of the absenteeism problem. Peer recognition and sense of community, self- expression and growth, and promising and stimulating career paths are necessary to maintain employee engagement. Two programs that seek to address these needs include Employee of the Month programs and “Better Feedback” program.

Employee of the Month Program

The employee of the month program is frequently used as a method of motivation and engagement. The purpose is to reward high performing workers and make recognition an incentive that employees to strive to attain. While this motivation is partially beneficial to addressing engagement because of the pride and sense of accomplishment that comes along with being recognized and increased individual employee performance, it is also inherently flawed. There is typically only one winner chosen, excluding others who have also worked hard and contributed significantly. In addition, it can lose its significance, especially if employees feel it is automatically passed around. It is important to maintain an incentive that is contingent on performance and has meaning to the individual receiving it. A Harvard Business Review research reveals that unintended consequences for this program include strategic “gaming” of the program by employees. In addition, a decrease in productivity from high traditionally performing employees was discovered, suggesting these employees were demotivated by others being rewarded for behaviors they had already been exhibiting (Gubler, Larkin, & Pierce, 2013). As a result of these significant weaknesses, “employee of the month” programs are not recommended to address the ongoing problem of employee disengagement in the context of absenteeism.

Integrated Engagement Program

An integrated engagement program incorporates two-way communication, allows employees to provide valuable input, be recognized for their contributions, and provides outlets for creativity as well as career growth. This type of program has immense benefits because it provides flexibility for the employee and provides them with self-development incentives (Cataldo, 2011). Employees who feel that their input is valuable are more engaged and put forth more effort within the workplace. It encourages them to take ownership of problems and get excited about contributing, causing morale and motivation to attend work to increase. The element of integration is important to this type of engagement program, because it provides multiple facets of empowerment and interest. Employees will feel like they are a part of a team, and work toward career and recognition incentives. The drawback to this program is that it can be very time consuming and monetarily taxing to implement. The two-way communication necessitates a significant change from many top-down communication approaches. Adjusting the structure of company processes will take significant time and energy. In addition, an outlet for creativity and feedback will need to be developed, requiring time and focus from a specific department or team.

Conclusion

In conclusion, while absenteeism has many underlying reasons, disengagement is a significant factor which causes employees to lose motivation and interest. A significant amount of the American population is disengaged from the tasks of their employer, resulting in heightened absenteeism and low morale. Employee of the month programs have traditionally been used as a peer recognition tool to motivate employees and provide an incentive for engagement and productivity. However, its meaning has diminished because it is no longer contingent on specific attributes and has the tendency to just be passed around. Integrated engagement programs provide employees with flexibility, communication, and a sense of belonging and value. While it requires significantly more energy, time, and monetary investment, it is a much more valuable application to improve employee engagement and address the overarching issue of employee absenteeism.

References

Cataldo, P. (2011). Engagement: How to measure it and improve it. UNC. Retrieved from http://www.kenan-flagler.unc.edu/executive-development/about/~/media/E93A57C2D74F4E578A8B1012E70A56FD.ashx

Circadian. (2005). Absenteeism: The bottom line Killer. Retrieved from http://www.circadian.com/images/pdf/CIRCADIAN_-_Absenteeism_-_Bottom_Line_Killer.pdf

Gallup. (2013). State of the American workplace. Retrieved from http://www.gallup.com/strategicconsulting/163007/state-american-workplace.aspx

Gubler, T., Larkin, I., & Pierce, L. (2013). The dirty laundry of employee award programs: Evidence from the field. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from http://www.hbs.edu/faculty/Publication%20Files/13-069.pdf

Rost, K., Smith, J., & Dickinson, M. (2004). The effect of improving primary care depression management on employee absenteeism and productivity A Randomized Trial. Med Care. 42(12), 1202–1210. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1350979/