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Employees who call in "sick" probably aren't

Two-thirds of U.S. workers who call in sick at the last minute do so for reasons other than physical illness, according to the findings of the 17th annual CCH Unscheduled Absence Survey . Consistent with survey findings dating back to 2001, personal illness is the most frequent reason given for unscheduled absences with 34 percent of respondents pointing to it as being the cause of employees’ last minute "no-shows." However, that leaves 66 percent of all unscheduled absences to be the result of something other than personal illness. According to the 2007 survey, those reasons include: family issues (22 percent), personal needs (18 percent), an entitlement mentality (13 percent) and stress and burnout (13 percent).

The CCH Survey asks HR professionals to share information about absenteeism at their organizations. Key findings from the 2007 survey include:

The average cost of absenteeism per employee is $422 per year, according to the results of the 2007 survey. The cost dipped significantly in 2006, but this year’s survey results show that the number is once again on the rise. Organizations are struggling to battle the costly absenteeism problem, which for the nation’s largest employers can run up to $764,000 per year in direct payroll costs, and even more when lost productivity, lost revenue and the effects of poor morale are considered.

Organizations are searching for solutions to the problem of unscheduled employee absences and are offering employees a range of work-life and absence control programs to counter its effects. The wider the range organizations offer, the greater reduction in last minute no-shows they are likely to see. There appears to be a disconnect, however, between what employers are offering and what employees need. For example, the work-life programs rated highest for reducing unscheduled absences are Alternative Work Arrangements, Telecommuting and Compressed Work Week. However, the three work-life programs most frequently offered by employers are Employee Assistance Plans, Flu shot Programs and Wellness Programs.

A similar lack of alignment was revealed between which absence control programs employers are using and which they determine to be most effective. Disciplinary Action, Yearly Review and Verification of Illness are the most used absence control programs, but the 2007 survey revealed that Paid Leave Bank, Disciplinary Action and Buy Back are actually the most effective.

It is time for organizations to step back and take a look at the programs they have in place for their employees. Companies can be more effective in offering the programs that will most benefit their employees by simply paying attention to the demographics of their particular workforce and considering how those demographics might affect what their employees need.

For additional information on this and other HR topics, consult CCH Human Resources Management or Personnel Practices/Communications.

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