The Work Experience

Sick and tired of absenteeism

Every so often an article appears in the newspaper citing the cost to business of dodgy sick days. What should be more concerning than the cost of sick days (apparently each one costs business $385, but isn’t this the cost of business?) is lost productivity, low employee morale and lower customer satisfaction when staff are unhappy when at work.

Earlier this month, Toyota’s chief executive in Australia admitted there are occasions – especially the day after a public holiday – when a third of his employees chuck a sickie. He blamed our industrial relations system for this epidemic and urged a change in the law. In reality, though, when an organisation has one-in-three employees calling in sick, no amount of tinkering with IR legislation is going to fix the issue.

That’s because changes in the law would only deal with the symptom. High rates of absenteeism are a signal there’s something very wrong with the way employees are engaged. An analysis by research firm Gallup, for example, revealed that disengaged employees have rates of absenteeism that are 27 per cent higher than their peers.

The article in today’s SMH does however shed some new light on the subject. Canadian professor Gary Johns from Concordia University has found that absenteeism is contagious and that teams influence one another more than their managers. He also found that those doing menial and repetitive work are far more likely to call in sick.

According to Professor Johns, research indicates that “teams can often exert a lot more influence on attendance behaviour than managers”. “There is some tendency to treat absence as a personal, individual performance issue and ignore the fact that it is under considerable social control. People imitate the attendance behaviour of their peers.”

The lessons:

Read the full article for more facts and figures about the estimated cost of absenteeism to businesses:…