Sick At Work: Reducing Employee Absenteeism

Four steps to reduce employees missing work when they’re not sick

When one of your employees is sick, you know the hard cost for paid time off. You planned for it, and you know your employees will use it. Just you know there are days that they aren’t sick, but want to have fun (don’t you wish you could do that).





But, there’s a less quantifiable, but insidious burden upon your company that comes when your employees take time off without getting paid. They do it for many reasons, no more sick/vacation time, mental health days, or couldn’t get time scheduled off. These unpaid days off, as reported by Forbes, cost U.S. companies more than $227 billion each year in lost productivity or missed deadlines.

Your sick day policy needs to be flexible in this economy to accommodate the changing lifestyle of your employees and produce the most effective and loyal workers.

Causes of Absenteeism

Surprisingly, the number one cause of employees missing work is not because they are sick. It’s because they have to take care of family members. More people would instead try to work while sick, than rest up properly. We’ll cover more on this below.

The number of sick days and how often a person misses is highly dependent on gender. Women will miss working more often to take care of kids and ailing parents than men. This is true in nearly every type of employment and executive level.

Young children being home sick from school requires a parent’s care, and young kids get sick often. As women and men start having families in their late 20s to mid-thirties, this absenteeism will hit your core workforce.

However, age makes a difference. Older workers are less likely to take time off from work, according to a 2005 survey by The Commonwealth Fund, than workers ages 19 to 29. Younger workers may take “Mental Health” days, a concept workers over the age of 40 may not even know about.

Of course, your employee being sick plays a significant role in your bottom line. But, you may be surprised to learn why.

Working while sick or “Presenteeism,” as coined by a report in the American Journal of Public Health in 2012, found the food services industry had an increased risk of injury and public health potential disaster. DM Norton et al. found that nearly half of all foodborne illness outbreaks in restaurants come from employees working while sick.

Along with the potential of spreading the illness, sick employees at work have reduced output, shorter tempers, and are ill longer. Plus, the work your sick employee isn’t doing falls onto other workers who are not ill, making them less productive.

Other reasons for missing work include not being able to find transportation, not being able to find facilities to care for children or aging parents, doctor’s appointments, and the mentioned trend of taking mental health days.

4 Ways to Reduce Absenteeism

In every company, you should be tracking the reason your employees give for taking time off. Once you have the data, you can provide the facilities and support for your employees that will minimize absenteeism and promote a good, healthy working environment.

Both of the books in my Health-Wealth series offer more than a dozen different tactics on how to reduce absenteeism in the workplace. Here are four examples:

On-Site & Near-Site Health Clinics

Many larger companies are hiring doctors, nurses, and medical staff to provide a small, urgent care clinic right in their main building. These urgent care clinics are often free, open during all working hours, and operate under the same strict HIPAA regulations found in other doctor’s offices. Many companies utilizing on-site or near-site clinics are also converting to a Direct Primary Care model.

Your employees benefit with better access to health care, reduced illness, better regulation over medications, decreased insurance cost, and reduced absenteeism.

The Direct Primary Care (DPC) model reduces costs further. DPC resembles a subscription plan or country club membership. One flat fee is paid to the doctor, and your employees can obtain as many services as they need. The DPC doctor benefits from a steady, guaranteed income, your employees benefit from the doctor being more concern with your employee’s health than insurance, and you benefit from saving money on insurance costs. Coming soon, another article will explain how you can implement this system.

The most significant hurdle facing these health clinics is the right to privacy. These doctors are required to operate under HIPAA regulations, precisely as if they were in a formal doctor’s office. You need to reassure your employees that these offices will not share medical information, nor can visits to the clinic be tracked.

If your facility is not large enough to support a doctor and full nursing staff, consider partnering with a small, local clinic or urgent care center that your employees can visit with minimal or no cost. For many of the smaller doctors offices, a monthly retainer for helping treat your employees is more profitable for them than to continuously bill insurance.

Health clinics also play a role in helping employees live healthier, which reduces illness and time off. Obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and pain management are issues that a health clinic can incorporate as part of a wellness program. Healthier employees are more productive, take less unpaid time off, and generally remain with the company longer.

Family Support Services

Missing work to take care of a sick child, manage snow days, or attend after-school activities is commonplace, especially among women. Instituting child care facilities to take care of young children can be often profitable when compared to lost productivity due to missing work.

Some examples of family support services include child day care, senior care, and after-school programs. Some urgent care facilities in office allow children to attend, helping reduce the need for parents to take time off for their child to see a doctor.

Ride Share/ Car Pool Support

Employees who are late or need to miss work because they don’t have adequate transportation are rising in numbers. The Millennial culture is beginning to reject the use of individual automobiles and are demanding public transport be more available. However, public transportation systems are lacking in many areas, especially where newer office complexes are being built.

Fortunately, several enterprising organizations are providing transportation for those without. Uber, Lyft, Hyre, RabbitTransit, and many others are providing personal transportation and group transportation in a customizable and confidential way. Consider contracting with a local mass transit organization or group of individuals to help your employees arrive at work on time.

Additionally, some organizations are providing company vehicles or bonuses for individuals willing to carpool or pick up other employees. One large cast metal production plant in northern Pennsylvania offers specific individuals $250 in bonus each month to pick up three other employees and arrive on time. Since implementing the program, this company reported nearly all late arrivals started being on time and missed time at work dropped by over 50%.

Health-Wealth Focused Mobile Applications

The not-for-profit Health-Wealth organization and the two books in the series recommend some mobile apps to help corporations and employees better manage their health and save money. In our next article, well go into these topics a bit deeper, add a few, and show you how to incorporate them into your health care model. Here are a few to look into:

– Telehealth – Apps like Teladoc and Lemonaid Health put you in direct contact with a doctor via phone or video chat. This chat costs significantly less and sometimes saves a trip to the emergency room or doctor’s office.

– Disease-specific counseling – Managing health issues like diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity works best when working with a coach or counselor. Canary Health’s diabetes prevention program and monitoring apps help doctors adjust medications, provide warnings of problems, and can provide meal planning.

– Women’s Health – Some women are embarrassed by specific problems, especially if their doctor is male. Speaking to a female teledoctor, such as Teladoc or ReadyDoc MD, or a coach can help provide guidance and understand for sensitive issues. Certain apps that monitor blood pressure, menstruation (Glow app), and mood swings can identify problems before they interfere with normal, daily life.

– Stress and anxiety – The most significant trend in mental health is texting apps with a trained professional. For a minimal fee, you can talk to a coach, psychologist, or counselor about health, stress, depression, or any relationship issue. Usually, these monthly fees are 75-90% less than a single counselor session and provide better, faster service. 7 Cups provides 24/7 service.

Making Sense of It All

The Health-Wealth Not-For-Profit education division offers an interactive exercise for corporate benefits teams to assist them in starting the cultural shift to get employees to convert to Engaged Health Consumers.

You have to take an active interest in your employees and learn why they miss work. Then, you can take proactive steps to give them the support they need to be the present, hard workers you need.

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