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There is still sadly, a culture within Australia that celebrates and accepts “taking a sickie” as being the norm or employees that have the impression that they have it accumulated so why not take it? Who’s it going to hurt?  Well it hurts the hip pocket of business owners to the tune of $ 33 billion nationally.

The good news is that employee absenteeism has fallen in terms of days taken to an average of 8.6 days per employee per annum from 9.5 days reported a year ago according to Direct Health Solutions’ 2015 Absence Management and Wellbeing Survey.

Whilst this is the lowest it’s been since 2008, the not so good news is that costs associated with absenteeism hasn’t instead, it’s increased from $2,741 per employee in 2013 to $2,984 per employee in 2015. In total, the cost of absenteeism to the Australian economy in 2015 has been levied at $33bn. Ideally, the benchmark for absenteeism should be seven days within a 12 month period.

Of interest also is that according to industry/sector – private sector employees take 7.9 days on average and public sector employees, 10.3 days for an absence rate of 3.4 % and 4.5% respectively. Below are some key numbers from this report that may be of interest:

  • 10% – the rate by which employee absenteeism has dropped since 2014
  • 5% – the percentage of the workforce that calls in sick on any given day
  • 10-18 – the typical number of personal leave days per annum offered by large employers
  • 39% – businesses that say absences related to stress, anxiety or depression have increased in the past year
  • 21% – businesses that say they have increased their annual spending on health and wellbeing initiatives to help support their employees
  • 95 million – total days lost to absenteeism in Australia each year

A worrying aspect of absenteeism is the ‘entitlement culture’ surrounding sick leave where employees view this as an entitlement rather than a safety net provision for days when there is illness or family emergencies – respondents reported that 65% of absenteeism is a result of this culture with absenteeism amongst the infringers being two days higher than the average.

So how do you counter and reduce this impact on your business’s financially? Sixty five percent of DHS respondents said that they introduced a centralised absence reporting system to a single point of contact; 62% have engaged a specialist absence management service provider, or by managing internally via performance reviews; 48% conducted return to work interviews; 47% allocated a case manager to longer-term absences; and 30% provided training to front-line leaders on how to manage absenteeism.

Other than the obvious causes for absenteeism such as occupational health and safety, drugs and alcohol, bullying and domestic violence – all of which can be managed through the implementation and enforcement of policy to reduce absenteeism, other strategies might include building and engaging employees in a high performance work culture, widening job responsibilities, recognising and rewarding employee contributions as well as providing training and development.

ACTION: Calculate the cost of absenteeism for your business. If you find that it exceeds a median of seven working days, put in place strategies to reduce days taken.

Additional reading:

Gender parity and its link to domestic violence in the workplace

$0.5bn annually for work-related mental health claims

Managing mental illness – what you need to know

Make your workplace safe from drugs and alcohol

Anti-bullying – a year in review