The Linkages of Corporate Culture and Absenteeism

In difficult economic times, excess absenteeism is a problem businesses really can't afford to have. Figures from PwC show employees on average have 5.5 days unscheduled leave in the United States and 4.5 days in Asia Pacific, however, it is the UK which is faring the worst, with a median 10 days a year.

This is believed to be costing British business £32 billion each year, before the cost of replacement or lost productivity is even taken into account. And it's fair to say the result doesn't come from UK workers being sicklier.

Corporate Cultures in the UK and the US

Richard Phelps, HR consulting partner at PwC, believes it has much more to do with the culture which has built up in the UK, in particular since the downturn, which is particularly evident in comparison with the United States.

"One might assume the perceived US work culture of long hours and short holidays could lead to higher stress and sick rates. Our data suggests otherwise, or perhaps demonstrates that strong employee engagement and commitment can override workplace pressures.

"For a variety of reasons, there seems to be a hunger among workers in US and Asia to go the extra mile," he explained.

Phelps said a two pronged approach, where the staff is encouraged to become more engaged and unscheduled absences are made less appealing, is required and some industries are better at fostering a culture for preventing absenteeism than others.

Both technology and financial services were identified as winners, with the former innovating to ensure employees remain committed and the latter attracting highly-motivated candidates.

"There simply isn't the culture for absenteeism - come rain or shine, people get into work
," he explained.
Retailers often take a different approach by docking pay quickly, but this is unlikely to work for sectors where employee engagement is important and staff turnover isn't as high, as the industry experiences a high level of resignation.

Improving Wellbeing

Tackling absenteeism requires a renewed focus on wellbeing, both in terms of people's attitudes and stress levels, as well as reducing the number of injuries requiring workers to spend time away from the office.

Phelps explained: "There’s also a question of whether UK employers should be investing more in the health of their workforce. US firms tend to take greater responsibility for staff well-being, whether providing gyms in the workplace or access to counselors.

Research conducted by Simplyhealth— taking in the views of 1,005 workers, 504 managing directors, human resources directors, divisional and company directors and 204 finance directors
— found one in five believe their employers now care less about their wellbeing than they did just one year ago.

However, three-quarters of those who said they felt their employers cared about their wellbeing described themselves as being very loyal. This then pays dividends in the fact that loyal employees are more likely to go the extra mile and less likely to take unscheduled absences for phony reasons.

"If people are bored and depressed with their jobs, employers need to think creatively how they can get people back in gear. Rather than a sign of laziness, unwarranted leave can mean people are under-used," Neil Roden, HR consulting partner at PwC
, said.

There is plenty of evidence suggesting flexible working can go a long way in driving down absence rates, with 38 per cent of respondents to a Confederation of British Industry survey citing it as a key benefit of the policy.

Tracking the wellbeing of the workforce is also vital in addressing the issue.

Employers need to closely monitor any signs of plummeting wellbeing, such as an increased absence level or increases in certain types of illness, serious incidents and injuries, an increased usage of an assistance line and occupational health or changes in engagement scores," Debbie Meech, people director at global telecoms company Cable&Wireless Worldwide, said.

"Health awareness sessions on various topics, on-site nurses for a day, childcare, private medical insurance or an assistance line are just some of the available solutions."