Poll: Fewer Office No Shows Still Not Showing

October 22, 2003 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - The rate of last-minute no shows in US workplaces has dropped to an all-time low while the average annual per-employee cost fell 22.3%, according to a new study.

According to the 2003 CCH Unscheduled Absence Survey, the absenteeism rate declined to 1.9% in 2003 from 2.1% in 2002 and the average annual per-employee cost of absenteeism dropped to $645 in 2003 from an all-time high of $789 in 2002.

Most employees taking unscheduled time aren’t in their sick bed. The survey found that while personal illness is still the single most common reason for last-minute no-shows (36%), nearly two-thirds (64%) of unscheduled absences are due to Family Issues.

The still-lagging economy may be among the factors in the overall reduced rate and cost of absenteeism, the study said. “Employees may be more fearful of taking off time given the tight job market,” said CCH workplace analyst Lori Rosen, in a statement.

A Morale Issue

Even though fewer workers are calling in sick overall, companies with low morale continue to struggle with higher unscheduled absenteeism rates and costs. For example, the rate of unscheduled absenteeism is 17% higher among companies with Poor/Fair morale compared to those with Good/Very Good morale, the study found.

Organizations reporting Good/Very Good morale experienced a 1.8% rate of unscheduled absences while those reporting Poor/Fair morale had a rate of 2.1%. Dealing with these unhappy workforces has a high price tag. Overall, the survey found that employers set aside an average of 4.4% of their budgets for absenteeism.

Morale also influences the reasons people call in sick at the last minute. Organizations reporting Poor/Fair morale were more likely to experience unscheduled absenteeism due to Stress (14%) and Entitlement Mentality (16%) than organizations reporting morale as Good/Very Good (9% and 11%, respectively). Not only that, but workers at companies with low morale also are more likely to show up for work sick, according to the survey. Employers with low morale reported that 33% of unscheduled absences were due to Personal Illness, compared to 39% at companies with Good/Very Good morale.

Some 34% of companies with Poor/Fair morale reported that their unscheduled absences increased over the past two years and 38% believed that unscheduled absences would continue their climb in the future. Only 15% of companies with Good/Very Good morale reported increased absenteeism and only 14% believed their absences would rise in the future.

“This should be a real wake-up call for employers who think employee morale doesn’t matter or can easily be addressed,” said Rosen. “Morale does matter and poor morale can have a very evident impact on the bottom line.”

Work-Life Programs

All of this does not mean companies aren’t finding ways to fight back. According to the survey, organizations now use an average of 7 work-life programs, down from 7.3 in 2002. Of particular note, is the decline in the number of employers offering programs that provide workers with greater flexibility. That could be unfortunate since, of the programs ranking highest in curbing unscheduled absences, four of them – Alternative Work Arrangements, Compressed Work Week, Job Sharing and Telecommuting – provide employees with greater control over when and where they work. While Alternative Work Arrangements showed a 6% increase in use over 2002, the other programs experienced declines in use by organizations: Compressed Work Week, down 18%; Job Sharing, down 19%; and Telecommuting, down 4%.

While respondents reported a decline in the use of work-life programs, they have increased the use of absence control programs, now using 5.6 such programs, up from 5.2 last year. Disciplinary Action remains the single-most used absence control program, in place at 96% of organizations. The other leading absence control programs are Yearly Review (84%), Verification of Illness (75%), No Fault (62%) and Paid Leave Banks (59%).

This survey also found that full-time employees were offered the same number of sick days as in 2002, but took fewer of them. On average, companies granted 7.6 sick days to employees in 2003 and employees used 5.6 days, down from 6.2 days taken in 2002. This year, an average of 48% of employees took zero to two paid unscheduled absence days, 40% used three to eight days and 12% took nine or more days.

The survey covered 436 human resource executives in the US and was conducted online by Harris Interactive from June 16, 2003 through July 9, 2003. To order the CCH Human Resources Management Ideas & Trends newsletter containing the 2003 Survey, call 800-449-9525 and ask for offer number 06280001. The price is $34.95 plus tax, shipping and handling.