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Reducing Workplace Absences: Strategies for Success

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Can you imagine Amazon having almost no workers in 2022?

As reported by Recode: "If we continue as we are, Amazon will exhaust the available labor supply in its US network by 2024."

Even founder Jeff Bezos was concerned, saying the company needed to do a better job as an employer.

But isn't Amazon one of the three largest employers in the world?

While Amazon is a place where smart, passionate and innovative people come together, a large part of the company remains invisible.

Behind every purchase you make is a team of workers who pack, ship and pick products for a pittance. For some, that's enough. For most it isn't.

This is the life of Amazon's fulfillment employees, those who work in the warehouses.

Coming back to the question of why the company soon ran out of workers, it is important to understand that Amazon wanted to monitor every move of employees and pressure them to achieve their goals, without giving any excuse for taking time off. Their employment would be subject to review if they notified the warehouse of an absence more than two hours before their shift. The injury rate was also 6.8 per 100 workers.

Worker well-being was so neglected that Amazon violated federal law by penalizing emergency time off from work as part of its policy.

There was a high rate of absenteeism, followed by turnover. The company ended up losing 5% of its workforce weekly and 150% annually.

Sounds scary, doesn't it?

Another example of absenteeism at work is Covid-19. In 2022, there were an average of 1.6 million absences per month in the United States. Absenteeism skyrocketed as employees prioritized their well-being. We agree that our own well-being has been a top priority during the pandemic - for most people it has become even more important than it was during lockdowns.

Absenteeism was also a problem in 1998, as airline unplanned absences rose 25% - the highest in seven years. Around 26% of the mentions referred to “family problems”.

You will now ask yourself:

What are the causes of absenteeism at work?

Absenteeism is caused by a number of factors such as:

  • Monotone work
  • High workload
  • Family problems
  • Bad working conditions
  • Mental health issues
  • Inflexible working hours
  • Burnout
  • Illness or injury

Employee absences are usually intentional and result in increased costs for employers.

They impact a whole range of aspects, but before we get into them, let's look at how they primarily impact workplace productivity:

Loss of productivity in India due to employee absenteeism

It is logical that an employee who works less is also less productive. Other employees have to take on additional work, and managers have to spend a lot of time adjusting workflows and resources.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Foundation,

Absenteeism costs employers $225.8 billion annually in lost productivity.

Absenteeism at work is divided into 4 types:

  • Planned
  • Unplanned
  • Approved
  • Not allowed

Planned and approved absences typically do not have a negative impact on productivity. However, unauthorized absence becomes a problem as it leads to frustration among those who have to take over the absent employee's work. Most unplanned absences are unavoidable - due to accidents, family emergencies, illness, etc. In India, the number of such absences is high and ranks second among 6 countries.

One of the most common myths about absenteeism is that it is an employee's personal problem and not the manager's responsibility.

Managers need to recognize such employees as they severely impact not only productivity but also business operations.

How does employee absence affect your company?

Imagine employees with specific tasks - those that directly impact sales, such as: in sales, consulting, software development or manufacturing. Absences in such employee groups not only affect the teams, but can also lead to a loss of sales.
Absenteeism can be difficult to combat, especially when pressure on productivity and profitability increases. However, you can track employee attendance to predict and minimize it.

Track and predict employee absences

Every company tracks employee attendance, but the way they do it varies. Some use Excel spreadsheets, others rely on timesheets.

But is taking attendance so important that you need to change the way you do it?

Well, it boils down to, as Anne M. Mulcahy said:

Employees are a company's greatest asset - they are your competitive advantage
Dealing with the key to competitive advantage is crucial, and time tracking is just the first step. It is important to:

  • To avoid calculation errors
  • Optimize performance by managing resources for specific projects
  • Understand absenteeism rates and identify potential problems
  • To protect the company from possible lawsuits

Although you can track hours using spreadsheets, it is much more efficient and easier to use an online time tracking system.

On average, employers spend 2.4 hours per week creating shift schedules - and about 70% of employee work schedules are handwritten.

Not only do employers lose thousands of dollars each year, but wage and time theft cost employers $22 billion and $11 billion per year, respectively.

IceHrm is the only time tracking software you will ever need because it integrates every aspect of time tracking. The software has an attractive user interface for employee time tracking, vacation and attendance:

Absence is the first sign of employee dissatisfaction. You can find out more about it here.

Minimize Absenteeism with People Analytics - Gartner's Analytical Value Escalation Framework

Let's look at Dan.

Dan is a newcomer. Since he was hired, he has missed 20 days of work - due to illness. He calls in sick or goes to work at least two to three times a month.

His boss, Ross, is in a dilemma.

Ross knows that it takes a lot of effort and resources to interview, hire, and train a new employee. Additionally, if he hires someone else to replace Dan, he must continually mold them into the person suitable for their role.

What should Ross do?

Should he continue with Dan or contact HR about this?

One option Ross can take advantage of here is to use Gartner's Analytic Value Escalator Framework.

It divides business analytics into 4 stages:

  1. Descriptive Analytics: What happened?
  2. Diagnostic analytics: why did it happen?
  3. Predictive Analytics: What will happen?
  4. Predictive analysis: what should we do?

As you can see, there is an evolution of data - from describing it to predicting what will happen and how we can influence it. By quantifying this data, you can improve the efficiency of decision making and strategy. Companies like Bain & Company, McKinsey, Deloitte, etc. have already recognized this potential.

While this doesn't necessarily mean that only a top consulting firm can reap the benefits of AI, you can also leverage the expertise of business strategists.

What Ross should do is the first step he should take:

1.Descriptive analytics

With this type of analysis, Ross can use historical data from a single source to determine when an event occurred.

An example:

  • How many times has Dan called in sick in the last three months?
  • How often has an employee taken on Dan's workload?
  • How often did a drop in sales occur when Dan was sick or called in sick?

Such information is often presented in reports that enable informed decisions to be made.

Let's look at what Ross discovered in the first phase:

  • Dan has called in sick 12 times in the last three months.
  • His colleagues took over his work twice in the same period.
  • Sales dropped about 2% when Dan was sick.

Now Ross can analyze the reasons for this development.

2.Diagnostic analytics

Diagnostic analysis examines the historical data collected above in more depth. This is about recognizing patterns, trends and correlations. It covers the “why” aspect.

Ross came across this:

  • Dan's workload was shared because he called in sick 8 times.
  • The 2% decline also occurred during the same period when Dan was sick while at work.

Now Ross has a good understanding of historical events: "when" and "why".

What's next?

This will be decided by the next two analyses.

3.Predictive analytics

Now the focus is shifting from understanding historical events to gaining insights about the current or future state. While it is not possible to predict exactly what will happen in the future, Ross can determine the probability of possible outcomes.

Below are some possible outcomes that Ross predicted based on patterns and workload requirements:

  • High probability of a doubling of the workload in an upcoming project phase
  • Possibility of a further decline in sales of around 3%

Since Ross answers the question "What will happen?" has answered, he can develop measures based on these predictions and thus choose the best course of action.

4.Predictive analytics

In this phase, Ross must decide what will bring the most value to the company.

Ross understands that since Dan has a 65% chance of calling in sick, there is a likelihood of increased stress on other team members. Sales would also decrease. Ross decided to offer Dan the option to work remotely when he is sick, while adjusting work hours to minimize disruption to the team. In addition, smaller tasks were temporarily assigned to his team members depending on their expertise to avoid overload in the future.

Finally Ross decided.

Now all he has to do is tell Dan.

Conversation with an employee about absence: identification and immediate action

Before we get into how Ross should communicate with Dan, let's understand that every company faces employee absenteeism - because that's just how life is. People get sick. People take vacations. People have social obligations. And so forth.

Things get serious when absenteeism is excessive, causing an imbalance in workload and impacting the bottom line.

Now it is difficult to talk to an employee about his absence because, after all, he is entitled to sick days and vacation days. Here are the steps you can take to discuss your employee's absences:

1.Communicate attendance and absence policies

First, consult an employee handbook. Remind the employee what was expected of them in terms of attendance when they started the job.

2.Focus on performance, not absence

Don't fire an employee too quickly because of their excessive absence from work. If the employee's performance is otherwise good and perhaps even exceptional, it would be risky for the company to fire him.

Instead, discuss with the employee why they completed tasks late or missed other tasks. Focus on how the employee's absence affects deadlines and other team members, rather than the fact that they don't show up for work. Overall, try to solve the problem together.

Tip: When making your decision, focus on the outcome that will provide the greatest benefit to the company.

3.Show them you care

Not every employee who is absent is lazy or bored with their work. There could be something else going on - just like Dan. Employees still have the right to remain silent, but it is important to address the underlying cause.

Don't just focus on the symptoms of absence, but also address the root causes. Listen and be empathetic, but also use the opportunity to reinforce work expectations. Explain how important their presence is - both to the team and to business operations. Ask how you can help them show up on time.

4.Address attendance issues quickly

As was observed in Dan's case, Ross did not act until a few months after the sustained absences. Delaying will only make things worse for the team and the company.

5.Have evidence to support you

A simple attendance management system is perfect for proving that an employee didn't show up for work. Well-documented evidence prevents you from accepting an employee's continued excessive absences while also being able to respond quickly.

If Dan's company had used an attendance management system, Ross would have identified attendance irregularities sooner.

6.Recognize and reward good attendance

Neuroscientific research shows that employees respond better to rewards and recognition than to threats and punishments. Many employees are influenced by positive reinforcement, so recognize and publicly praise those who have no unexcused absences or good attendance.

Let's briefly explore how to deal with absenteeism:

  • Adopt a flexible work strategy, such as: the possibility of remote working or working from home
  • Focus on employee engagement
  • Encouraging employees to express their opinions
  • Have regular conversations with employees

The way forward

Ross successfully communicated his decision to Dan. What's next for Ross?

It was obvious that Ross failed to address Dan's attendance issues in a timely manner.

Some companies document and maintain attendance records, but most use an employee attendance tracking system to identify patterns of absenteeism or poor behavior. The data collected by such software serves as a guide for management to address problems in a timely manner and manage work schedules.

If Ross' company had used an attendance tracking system, would he have been able to manage Dan's work schedule in a timely manner? Yes. It would also have minimized the impact of Dan's absence on sales and the additional workload on other team members.

Addressing absenteeism is crucial for workplace productivity. Tools like IceHrm streamline attendance tracking for better workforce management.

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