Illness or Stress – Why Are You Really Calling In?


Working Toward Work-Life Balance


People miss work; it happens. Even the toughest, most dedicated employee occasionally misses a day because of illness, transportation issues, or a wide range of other potential uncertainties that just plain prevent a person from performing their occupational duties.

But sometimes, employees go absent for reasons that extend far beyond the standard isolated occurrence. Stress, lack of passion for one’s job, burnout, office bullying… all are regular contributors to ongoing absenteeism in the form of extended sick leave.

The impact is far greater than, say, an employee accidentally bringing home extra office supplies, or even taking an extra minute by the water cooler (or coffeemaker). Absenteeism over stress is costing companies a lot of money. A recent Forbes article references a publication of workforce solution company Circadian called Absenteeism: The Bottom-Line Killer that claims unscheduled absenteeism costs roughly $3,600 per year for each hourly worker and $2,650 each year for salaried employees. Altogether, US companies as a whole face billions of dollars’ worth of hidden absentee shortfalls, a “chronic pain by a million cuts” impact on American industry as a whole.

In some industries, the impact is exponentially greater. For example, in food service, employees who are sick are more likely to infect other employees, causing a rippling wave of illness that leads to at-large absenteeism, not to mention the various risks and stresses that result from understaffing restaurants such as a decline in service and an increased load for remaining employees simply trying to help the restaurant function.

So what’s the answer to absenteeism woes for both companies and employees? There may not be a one-size-fits-all solution. However, there are options for companies seeking to reduce overall absenteeism, including:

  • Mandatory sick days– By forcing employees to take time off, some argue that employees pressing themselves too hard to get into work will be less likely to infect other people with their illness. Opponents claim that employees will wind up using sick days they don’t need and that this could lead to extra company expenditures that transform into costs in the form of layoffs, but mandatory sick days are still one potential viable option to consider.
  • Incentives– Other companies believe that giving people extra sick leave or time off will have a positive impact on absenteeism by offering employees who otherwise might not show that little something extra to get them into work.
  • Proactive, customized response policies– Forward-thinking companies may have specific instant action plans for expected absenteeism issues, including psychological stress, physical issues in the form of illness or general aches and pains, economic worries, work-life balance, burnout and other expected factors. We can all see these issues coming; why not plan ahead?

What should we learn from the absenteeism “epidemic” and company responses to the issue? The number one lesson is that there’s always a better way to handle absenteeism. Every company should have a plan for preventing employees from missing work time. Absenteeism comes in a wide variety of shades and shapes, ranging from planned absence based on avoidance of stress and major work issues all the way down to tardiness and extra-long lunches. Just as work is becoming more flexible, solutions to leading work-related issues- such as missing work- are becoming more varied. Find the ones that are right for your company, preferably before you absolutely have to.