Sick woman on bed


The Effects of Absenteeism and How to Manage It


It is a common misconception that ‘sick days’ occur most on either a Monday or Friday, due to an ‘unofficial long weekend’ or after a few more drinks than planned on a lazy Sunday. In truth, the most common day for unplanned absences from work is a Tuesday.

There is also a false perception about the proportion of false sick days in Australian business, the actual figure for genuine illness is around 90%.

Absenteeism Levels as of 2014

As of 2014, results from absence management company, Direct Health Solutions (DHS), have reported that absenteeism levels have decreased to their lowest level since 2008, with a 7% reduction in absence levels across Australia. Currently, the average absenteeism rate is 8.6 days per employee, compared to 9.3 days in 2013.

That is not to say that unplanned absences are no longer a problem. The cost of absenteeism is now exceeding $32.5 billion per year in wages and lost productivity as the average cost of absence has increased to $347 per workday.

Unplanned absences also increase the workload of colleagues who have to cover for unplanned absence days, which results in a 29.5% average decrease in productivity. This, in turn, increases stress and reduces the quality of work, with employees reporting that it hurts workplace morale.

Common Causes of Absences

Unplanned absences can be categorised into sick leave, carer’s leave, compensation leave, miscellaneous leave and unauthorised absence, with sick leave and carer’s leave being the most common causes of absenteeism.

Unhealthy working environments also encourage high absences, as heavily monitored and unionised businesses create an adversarial relationship between employees and their bosses, resulting in low morale.

For some organisations, entitlement culture can be attributed to absenteeism levels as some employees believe that paid sick days and carer’s leave are there to be used whenever they please without the need for a certificate.

Managing Absences

1.     Return-to-work interviews

This approach involves collecting data on the levels, patterns and causes of absenteeism to identify problem areas and indicate the types of management action that should be taken to resolve them. This also documents and analyses what managers are doing about absenteeism.

2.     Automated management trigger alertsView Post

These alerts inform management and HR about complex and chronic absenteeism issues. However, this should not be used solely for disciplinary reasons and relies on collaboration among employees, managers, and external parties such as doctors to find the best method to deal with such issues.

A trigger system mitigates the risk of chronic cases becoming long-term issues as the system escalates cases to more formal management processes, which results in a collaborative plan that specifically tackles the core problems.

Sources: DHS Absence Management and Wellbeing Survey 2015


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