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2006 CCH Survey Finds Unscheduled Absenteeism Up in U.S. Workplaces, and Employers Have Growing Concerns about Presenteeism

The unscheduled absenteeism rate was 2.5 percent in 2006 -- the highest since 1999 - according to the 16th Annual CCH & Harris Interactive Survey.

Employers are concerned about the impact of unscheduled absenteeism, with nearly one in three (31 percent) reporting that it is a "serious problem," and 92 percent stating that they think the problem may stay the same or worsen in the next two years. In fact, unscheduled absences are costing some large employers an estimated $850,000 per year in direct payroll costs, and even more when lost productivity, morale and temporary labor costs are considered.

According to the survey, personal illness accounts for only 35 percent of unscheduled absences, while 65 percent of absences are due to other reasons, including family issues (24 percent), personal needs (18 percent), stress (12 percent) and entitlement mentality (11 percent).

The survey also found that traditional "sick time" programs are out of sync with the times and that employers are increasingly offering programs to help employees more effectively manage the issues that take them away from work.

Of the work-life programs offered by employers, the top five in use recognize that helping employees manage the many aspects of their busy lives is increasingly important. These programs are Employee Assistance Plans (76 percent), wellness programs (67 percent), leave for school functions (65 percent), flu shot programs (64 percent) and alternative work arrangements (63 percent).

"The trend upwards in programs that offer flexibility on how and when work gets done is an indication that more workplaces are trying to accommodate the needs of different employees, for example, working parents with young children," said Pamela Wolf JD Employment Law Analyst for CCH.

While the survey shows employer concern about impacts of unscheduled absenteeism it also shows a growing concern about presenteeism -- when employees come to work even though they are sick and may be contagious to other employees. In 2006, 56 percent of employers surveyed reported that presenteeism is a problem in their organizations, up 8 percent from 2005.

Almost two-thirds of survey respondents (62 percent) who think presenteeism is a problem combat the issue by sending sick employees home. Forty-one percent choose to educate employees on the importance of staying home when they are sick, while 36 percent are fostering a culture that discourages coming to work sick. Twenty-seven percent are attempting to create flexibility for sick employees by either permitting employees to telecommute when they are sick (22 percent) or giving employees an unlimited number of sick days (five percent).

Jen Jorgenson, a spokesperson for the Society of Human Resource Management in Alexandria, Virginia, said companies may want to encourage telecommuting rather than have employees come in to the office and use their computers to get work done and infect everyone else around them, Jorgenson said employees who telecommute when sick can continue to be productive without making others sick.

"Organizations are engaged in a tug of war for their employees' time, and companies need to get a good understanding of why employees are calling in sick at the last minute, what impact this has on other employees who are expected to pick up the slack, as well as the impact it has on customers and anyone else relying on the absent worker," said Wolf. "Armed with this understanding, companies can most effectively assess both the hard and hidden costs of absenteeism and presenteeism, and better identify what programs can be used to keep employees on the job."

About the Survey
The 2006 CCH Unscheduled Absence Survey covering 326 human resource executives in U.S. companies and organizations of all sizes and across major industry segments in 47 states was conducted online by Harris Interactive® , a global market research and consulting firm, from June 28 through July 17, 2006. The CCH Human Resources Management Ideas & Trends newsletter sponsored the survey.

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