Turning the tide on Absenteeism

Absenteeism is costing the economy billions, at a time we can scarcely afford it. How can companies turn this trend around?

Late in 2014, Occupational Care South Africa (OCSA) and Statistics South Africa released the shock statistic that South Africa was losing some R16 billion a year to absenteeism. Around 15% of employees were absent on any given day, and only a third of these were actually ill.

In perspective, here’s what R16 billion will buy you in South Africa:

Meanwhile, Alexander Forbes called for a proactive management strategy among organisations countrywide to tackle absenteeism, after noticing that it had increased at “staggering rates” over the previous decade. The strategy should focus on implementing the best practice of managing absenteeism and increasing productivity in the workplace, the report noted.

All employers in fact have the power to begin making this happen. There is a noticeable correlation between employee well-being and low rates of absenteeism, and yet relatively few employers are taking advantage of the wealth of knowledge available to increase productivity in this way.

Over the past two years, the rate of absenteeism noted in the Top Employers South Africa Certification Programme’s research was significantly lower than the national average mentioned above. In 2014, the average absenteeism rate for all Top Employers was 5%. In 2015, it dropped even further, coming in at 3%.

It is no secret that lowering absenteeism boosts productivity, but increasing wellbeing boosts productivity in other ways as well. Employees eating a healthy diet are 25% more likely to have higher job performance, one survey http://www.businessnewsdaily.com/3699-healthy-eating-worker-productivity.html  found; while obesity tends to drive higher workmen’s compensation claims and other costs as well. http://www.zanebenefits.com/blog/bid/323708/Workplaces-Taking-on-The-Cost-of-Obesity-with-Weight-Control-Programs

Meanwhile, reports HR blog Zane Benefits, the Quantum Report http://www.quantumworkplace.com/resources/whitepapers/research-and-trends/workplace-well-being-provide-meaningful-benefits-energize-employee-health-engagement-and-performance/ found that “Employees are 14% more engaged when provided time off to recharge, 10% more engaged when provided health food options, 18% more engaged when provided time for healthy activities,  and 18% more engaged when provided a flexible schedule.”

Absenteeism is not only caused by physical sickness, however. Forbes.com notes that a primary driver of absenteeism is childcare and eldercare, as well as depression, disengagement and burnout.

So how are savvy companies handling this? South Africa’s 2016 Top Employers have prioritised employee wellbeing – and increased engagement – proactively. According to the Top Employers Institute, a total of 81% of Certified Top Employers have defined an organisation-wide Total Wellbeing programme, while 75% of Certified Top Employers have specific employee groups who are trained to implement wellbeing practices throughout the organisation. 

Flexible working hours and a reduction in travel (for example, through web-based seminars) are common, and there are a number of family-friendly benefits too. On average 71% of employees within a certified organisation have access to special leave for parents, over and above the minimum legal requirements, and some also have childcare facilities or even a contribution towards childcare. On average 51% of employees within a certified organisation have access to bringing a child to work in an emergency.

As far as health goes, the majority of Top Employers have included programmes such as: stress management, time management, personal support, employee assistance (EAP), occupational health, burnout recovery, an in-house doctor and/or occupational health professional, sports facilities and/or gym membership subsidy, a health screening programme, smoking cessation programmes and weight management/ nutritional programmes. Some even offer rewards for achieving certain health goals.

Vicky Jowitt, Employee Wellness Manager of Nestlé South Africa, says: “When employees believe that management cares for them, especially as a whole person, then they become more engaged, more productive, and there is less reason to stay away from work.” According to Jowitt, the company has taken a number of steps at each of its 11 sites in South Africa, including clinics with visiting doctors who oversee the health of employees. “We have disease management programmes supported by dieticians and biokineticists,” she adds. “We have a comprehensive EAP offering with onsite psychologists at some sites, and at HQ we have a crèche and we are installing breastfeeding rooms at our factories and Distribution Centres.” Flexible working conditions are also offered, and each site has “wellness champs” and wellness committees to coordinate the many wellness events. Cervical and prostate screening, as well as flu injections, are also available.

When joining Nestlé, each employee has to undergo nutritional training to understand the importance of good eating, health and wellness. Nestlé has also partnered with Discovery Vitality.

The result? A mere 1.7% sick-related absenteeism monthly, and around two-thirds participation in wellness programmes – as well as a high score in employee satisfaction surveys.

Metrics, says Jowitt, are essential to measuring the ROI of wellness programmes, and Nestlé has over ten metrics that are measured weekly and monthly. If targets aren’t measured, problem-solving activities are immediately triggered. They are not alone in doing so. In fact, 70% of Top Employers regularly evaluate the impact and effectiveness of their wellbeing programmes on a regular basis – this is a crucial element of making sure they work.

Absenteeism is possibly the single costliest problem to affect organisations locally and internationally, so it’s worth investing in a solution that works. It’s not a short-term game. But it does provide employers – and employees – with lasting benefits.


Issued by: Rothko PR on behalf of the Top Employers Institute

Contact: Niémah Davids, niemah@rothko.co.za, 021 448 9465 

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