Workers Take Unplanned Days Off Around Weekends, Holidays, Sports Events

Sudden absences increase stress, disrupt workflow, hurt morale

By Dana Wilkie Dec 15, 2014
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Nearly three in four U.S. employers say their workers tend to take unplanned absences directly before or after weekends, before public holidays, or before sporting or national events, according to a report by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

The report, commissioned by workforce management firm Kronos Incorporated and released Dec. 8, 2014, reflects a survey of 1,280 SHRM members, Kronos customers and prospective Kronos customers from April 10, 2014, through May 30, 2014.

The survey—conducted by e-mail in Australia, China, India, Mexico, the United States, and several countries within Europe—was designed to measure how employee absences affect costs such as payroll, overtime, hiring replacement workers and loss of productivity.

Asked if they noticed higher rates of unplanned absences on Mondays or Fridays, before public holidays, or before sporting or national events, 72 percent of U.S. respondents said they did. Unplanned absences referred to paid time off for sick, bereavement, parental or civic leave.

“Given that unplanned absences typically cost organizations more in indirect costs than planned absences do, it is pertinent that organizations accurately track unplanned absences both to monitor costs and to counsel their employees on attendance policies when necessary,” the report authors wrote.

Karen Wessels, the researcher who led the Kronos survey, said that if a worker is taking excessive leave, it may be in the employee’s and company’s best interests to review the attendance policy together to ensure there’s a clear understanding of leave policies.

“The goal is to reduce the number of unplanned absences since they are the most disruptive,” Wessels said. “Talking with the employee may shed light on how to plan for absences better.”

Asked to identify the effects of unplanned absences, more than two-thirds of respondents said such absences added to the workload, three-fifths said they increased workplace stress and disrupted others’ work, and almost half reported that they hurt morale.

Supervisors reported that they spent, on average, 4.2 hours a week—or about 5.25 weeks each year for those who work at organizations open 50 weeks a year—dealing with absences, including finding replacement workers, adjusting the workflow and providing training.

About two-thirds of organizations said they had formal, written attendance policies depending on employee type. Formal policies were more frequently in place for nonexempt employees than exempt employees (71 percent vs. 60 percent). More than 1 in 10 respondents said they didn’t have a formal, written policy for nonexempt employees, and another 18 percent said they didn’t have such a policy for exempt employees. Among respondents who were unable to differentiate between employees by exemption status, 32 percent reported they did not have a formal, written attendance policy.

The report authors pointed out that a formal, written attendance policy provides supervisors with a guideline and helps to ensure consistent practices across an organization.

Wessels said that the larger percentage of companies that lack formal policies for exempt employees “may be a reflection of differences in the costs of absenteeism based on employee classification, which should be explored in further research. In addition, the lower percentage of formal attendance policies in place for exempt employees may be a reflection of U.S. organizations moving toward a more flexible work environment.”

A 2014 SHRM study on workplace flexibility found that nearly 9 in 10 organizations think that, in general, flexible work arrangements will be more commonplace in the next five years than they are today.

Dana Wilkie is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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