Dr Lerato Motshudi, medical adviser at insurer Alexander Forbes Health, has consulted 60 South African employers to manage absenteeism from work, and found that many young workers tend to skip work days before or after weekends, or on public holidays. Absenteeism numbers are higher in winter.
Employers should initiate or use a system to monitor and analyse absent days by occupation, causes, timing, health and wellness factors. “Work absenteeism in South Africa is highest among young people and women, especially mothers during school holidays, says Dr Motshudi.
“Managers should then focus on the demographic group leading absenteeism and loss, not to victimise employees, but to gain understanding and develop interventions to prevent the main causes and effects of absenteeism.”
Among he sheq impacts of absenteeism are disruptions in work flow, system management, skills transfer, team coherence, loyalty, and culture.
“Absenteeism can be reduced when the right people are engaged sympathetically. If ignored, it increases,” says Dr Motshudi. Many companies outsource absenteeism management, or consult health and wellness specialists to help develop SHEQ management methods to prevent loss.
Causes of absenteeism differ hugely between companies, and even between sectors within companies, as the insurance consultant found. Drivers may include unique issues of leadership, management, systems, health exposures, shifts, lifestyle or corporate culture.
“A company dealing with hazardous materials may suffer high absenteeism in particular areas due to health and safety risk exposures or injuries.”
Most workers do not understand their employment contracts, and rely on sympathetic overseers or managers to allow time off work on a number of real or spurious pretexts.
At appointment, managers should clarify which religious holidays are counted as work holidays and which require application for leave, to be deducted from annual leave. SA basic conditions of employment legislation provide three days per year off on recognised religious holidays.
Workers should plan their religious and family obligation leave in advance, assisting management to plan work flow and other measures.
Managing maternity leave
Pregnancy is one of the drivers of absenteeism, involving medical appointments, which should be covered by sick leave rules. Mothers-to-be tend to be unhappy with taking sick leave, or using annual leave days for prenatal medical and health appointments, since they are saving up days for longer maternity leave.
“Companies that do not recognise half day leave may find a higher number of absent pregnant women,” warns Dr Motshudi.
Managing chronic disease leave
Chronic diseases tend to keep employees away from work for longer. Employees are not compelled by law to disclose their medical conditions or diagnoses.
Employers could use objective consultants to monitor absenteeism, which ideally should be equipped to investigate reasons for long absences, and advise managers on anticipated leave days, without breaking medical confidentiality.
Using absenteeism figures
Monitoring absenteeism allows managers to uncover problems such as chronic diseases or compliance with health and safety legislation and performance standards. Managers or human resources officials may discuss personal challenges with workers.
Negotiate employment policy
Leave, sick leave and absenteeism issues must be clarified in company policy and agreed to by employees. Managers should also continuously consult employees to iron out policy interpretation problems.
Communication should demonstrate how absenteeism affects colleagues’ workloads as well as their units’ productivity and profitability.
Solutions could include awareness of absenteeism records and third party monitoring. Employers have the right, in line with the Labour Relations Act, to warn employees, hold disciplinary hearings, investigate circumstances around absence, and try to accommodate individual circumstances.
PHOTO; Dr Lerato Motshudi, medical adviser at insurer Alexander Forbes Health, has consulted 60 South African employers to manage absenteeism, and gathered data on the issue.