Calling out sick? Most employees lie – but you probably knew that

Two-thirds of U.S. workers who call in sick at the last minute do so for reasons other than physical illness, but rather for reasons more personal and what some would call unreasonable or selfish. 

Some of the nation's largest employers estimate that unscheduled absenteeism costs their businesses more than $760,000 per year in direct payroll costs, and even more when lower productivity, lost revenue and the effects of poor morale are considered.

Specifically, the 17th annual CCH Unscheduled Absence Survey found that personal illness accounts for 34% of unscheduled absences, but 66% of absences are due to other reasons, including family issues (22%), personal needs (11%), and stress/burnout (13%), and Layer 8’s personal favorite, entitlement mentality (13%).   

According to the survey, conducted for CCH by Harris Interactive, the absenteeism rate was 2.3% in 2007, down slightly from 2.5% last year.  The CCH Survey also found that for many employers, it's no surprise when employees are likely to be no-shows. Some 68% report finding a discernable pattern in unscheduled absences, with the most noticeable pattern being workers calling in sick on Mondays and Fridays, followed by holidays such as Christmas or the Fourth of July, and during flu and hay fever seasons.

Answers to the problem seem elusive however. Employers report they use an average of 5 absence control programs, down from 6 in 2006. Disciplinary Action remains the single-most used absence control program, with 89% of surveyed organizations reporting use. The other leading absence control programs in use are a yearly review (82%), verification of illness (74%),  paid leave banks (60%) and no fault days (59%).The survey found that paid leave banks or paid time off continues to be the most effective absence control program. Paid Leave Banks/PTO provide employees with a single bank of hours to be used as they see fit, instead of managing separate days for sick, vacation and personal time.

The survey found a lack of alignment between what programs employers are using and what they determine to be most effective. For example, paid leave banks were not used by 40% of companies surveyed.

There is  flip side to this issue that is workers who insist on working despite a raging illness. While employees are well-meaning, their good intentions may have ill effects as they deliver lower productivity and also pose contagion risks to other employees and perhaps customers, the survey said.

The top reasons employees show up for work even though they are sick: 65% have too much work/deadlines; 56%say there is no one available to cover their workload; 55% don't want to use vacation time; 49% want to save sick time for later in the year and 49% show up for work sick because they fear being disciplined.The survey reported 54% of companies reporting said they send sick employees home, while 40% educate employees on the importance of staying home when sick and 34% foster a culture that discourages employees from coming to work sick. Thirty percent of employers say they use telecommuting programs as another way to deter sick folks from showing up.

So what to do? Well some companies are taking the recess approach for employees in an attempt to boost morale and in general brighten up sour dispositions.  A story in the Philadelphia Inquirer recently  looked at one company that offers a 15 minute recess once a week where team-building exercises and other activities are offered to help relax workers.  For example, workers at Masel in Bristol, PA., engaged in outside water-balloon tosses and basketball, there are also indoor remote-control-car races, electric-slide dances in the lunchroom.

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Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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