Absenteeism — the latest Australian trends

Analysis

Absenteeism — the latest Australian trends

Employees are taking 8.93 days sick and carers leave each per year, according to a new survey — with illness and family responsibilities being the primary reasons.

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Employees are taking 8.93 days sick and carers leave each per year, according to a new survey — with illness and family responsibilities being the primary reasons.

The 2013 Absence Management & Wellbeing survey, of 108 organisations employing approximately 450,000 employees, was conducted by Direct Health Solutions (DHS), an absence management and organisational wellbeing consulting firm. This was the sixth edition of the survey.

The cost of absenteeism to respondents’ businesses was $2741 per employee per annum.

Survey highlights
  1. The median was 8.0 days per employee per annum.
  2. Manual workers took 9.2 days compared to 7.8 for non-manual workers.
  3. 71 per cent of organisations consider absenteeism to be a significant cost to their business.
  4. Illness (eg cold/flu, headaches, gastro and mental health) and home and family responsibilities are the primary reasons for absenteeism.
  5. More than 50 per cent of respondents consider one day absences to be the most problematic to manage.
  6. 18 per cent of respondents believed there was an increase in employees going to work unwell (a ‘wickie’ — a working sickie). This was twice as likely to occur in the public sector compared to the private sector.
  7. 44 per cent of respondents reported that the incident of stress/anxiety/depression-related absence increased in the last twelve months. 64 per cent of public sector organisations reported an increase.
  8. 66 per cent of organisations have a formal strategy for managing absenteeism.
  9. 42 per cent of respondents believe absence is underreported in their organisation.
  10. The greatest source of stress for employees is not actually work load but rather non-work factors, such as family responsibilities.
The most effective practices used to manage absenteeism are:
  1. having return-to-work interviews with employees
  2. managing employees who hit trigger points or high levels of absence
  3. outsourcing and centralising absence recording and employee support to a specialist absence management provider.
Industry

The Telecommunications and Utilities Sector had the highest levels of absence, at 11.5 days, followed by the Contact Centre/Call centre Industry, with 10.9 days. Absenteeism costs the call centre industry over $1 billion per annum.
 
Absenteeism rose 17 per cent in Transport and Logistics, and Healthcare absenteeism climbed to 9.0 days annually.

There was good news for taxpayers and the government sector this year. Public Servants took 9.2 days of sick leave, down 11 per cent from last year. Public Servants now take just 3 per cent more time off than the private sector.
 
Interestingly, the survey also found that public sector employees were two times more likely to go to work sick than in the private sector. It may indicate that pressure to reduce absences in the public sector is having negative repercussions for employee health outcomes.
 
Sixty-four per cent of public sector organisations also reported an increase in the levels of mental ill health (ie stress/anxiety/depression) at work, nearly twice the level of the private sector.
 
State
 
Queensland and South Australia had the highest levels of sick leave, at 11.1 days and 10.9 days respectively.
 
Employees in the Australian Capital Territory took 10.6 days annually. New South Wales (8.3 days) and Victoria (8.7 days) were both below the national average.
 
Entitlement
 
Organisations where there was a culture of taking a sickie lost 10 days per year, compared to just 8.0 days in companies that did not report to having a ‘sickie culture’.
 
The survey also identified a strong relationship between rising turnover and rising absenteeism, indicating higher levels of motivated absence when job fit or satisfaction is low. It is also quite conceivable that when employees who are in jobs they don’t like their physical and mental wellbeing will be adversely affected, and this will mean greater levels of sick leave.
 
The full 2013 Absence Management & Wellbeing Report can be purchased from Direct Health Solutions (DHS).
 
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