Any absence can cause difficulties for employers—even the odd single day off can have a significant impact. In fact, many companies would agree that repeated short-term absences are harder to deal with than longer term absence. It can be challenging for employers to arrange temporary coverage when employees take a day off here and there. Equally important is the added stress that co-workers may experience as a result of managing the duties of a person who is off. Failure to manage these repeated short-term absences can create a decline in overall staff morale.

It is important to understand that there can be a variety of reasons for frequent short-term absences. In addition to genuine periods of sickness, incidental absences in the workplace may be linked to non-illness reasons, like family issues (e.g. child or elder care), personal issues, or dissatisfaction with the job or manager. The simple fact that sick days are employer-paid may leave employees feeling entitled to use them.

While employers are acutely aware of the impact of employee absenteeism on productivity and cost, many admit to not having an absence management policy. Monitoring short-term absences allows companies to identify trends and patterns in individual employee absence and helps employers decide whether action is necessary. Without an absence tracking mechanism in place, companies must rely on physician notes to validate incidental absences, leaving them with inadequate data to fully understand whether there is an issue or where to focus.

One of the biggest challenges in managing incidental absence is defining it. Depending on their structure and culture, incidental absence can mean different things to different organizations. Some take an expansive approach while others narrowly focus their efforts.

Effective incidental absence management programs share five best practices including:

  1. Defined incidental absences. Detail specific events encompassed by your program—from medical leaves to vacations; jury duty to paid time off.
  2. Active use of tracking tools. Find a way to track all incidental absences across all employee levels, business units, and locations.
  3. Well-understood variables. Identify the factors that can impact tracking and management of incidental absences, such as legislation and collective bargaining agreements.
  4. Consideration of in-house vs. third-party administration. Explore the most efficient and effective ways to manage incidental absence programs. Employers may choose to manage certain programs internally and outsource others to third parties. Check out all the facts and build a detailed business plan.
  5. Engaged employees. Introducing an absence tracking system can lead to employee fear, suspicion, and resentment. By ensuring that employees understand that the goal is to manage costs and ensure compliance will assist in assuring a positive work environment.

Absenteeism is an indicator of the health and productivity of a workplace. Tracking allows companies to identify employees who may be in need of support in managing health, personal, or workplace challenges. Early intervention can increase chances of a quicker return to work and minimize the disruptions caused by absences.

If you have any questions or comments about this issue, please contact your Cowan Insurance Group representative directly.