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Unscheduled absences rising at U.S. workplaces

The rate of absenteeism is on the rise and U.S. employers are losing ground in their battle against it. According to the 16th annual CCH Unscheduled Absence Survey, employers are struggling to find effective programs that keep healthy workers on the job because unscheduled absenteeism can cost large companies an estimated $850,000 per year. The 2006 survey revealed an absenteeism rate of 2.5 percent—that’s up from 2.3 percent in 2005, 2.4 percent in 2004 and 1.9 percent in 2003. In fact, this year's rate is the highest rate we have seen since 1999, when it was 2.7 percent. Similar to the 2005 survey results, this year's survey found that 65 percent of unscheduled absences—two out of every three absent employees—were for reasons other than personal illness.

The CCH survey, now in its 16th year, asks HR professionals to share information about absenteeism at their organizations. Key findings from the 2006 survey include:

Why are your employees not coming to work?

One-third of all absences are unscheduled, according to the CCH survey. Although personal illness remains the most frequently reported reason for unscheduled absences (35 percent), that accounts for only one-third of all unscheduled absences. That means that two out of every three unexpectedly absent employees are not physically ill.

So, why are the 65 percent of non-ill employees absent? In 2006, 24 percent of unscheduled absences were the result of family issues (up from 21 percent in 2005), while 18 percent were the result of personal needs (18 percent in 2005 as well). The remaining unscheduled absences resulted from stress/burnout, 12 percent (also the same in 2005), and entitlement mentality, 11 percent (down from 14 percent in 2005).

With unscheduled absences trending upward this decade, companies need to understand why employees are calling in at the last minute and what impact this has on other employees, productivity and the bottom line. Employers that take the time to gather this information will find themselves more able to assess both the hard and hidden costs of absenteeism effectively and to better identify what programs can be used to keep employees on the job.

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

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