Think You Understand Your Absenteeism? Think Again…
by Stephen Ingalls, President & CEO
When an organization asked us if we could help them address their issues with absenteeism, we were excited. We’d been talking about this challenge for some time, and the prevailing perspective among more senior (read older) leaders was that the issue was their younger employees. “These kids didn’t grow up with the same work ethic as I did,” they would say. “They’ll work just as much as necessary to buy whatever is at the top of their list, but after that…all bets are off.” Interesting hypothesis.
Almost a year later, we’ve finished looking at and analyzing two and half years of absenteeism data for 319 different employees who worked at one of the company’s five manufacturing plants. Along the way, we talked with several who were struggling with being at work when they were supposed to. While the final report is not yet complete, and we have yet to brief the organization on what we’ve found, here are some high-level nuggets to consider:
- Over a standard work week, this workforce was 7.7 and 6 percent more likely to be absent on a Friday or Monday, respectively, than a Wednesday. In fact, across all data analyzed, there is a marked absenteeism “bucket.” Absences peak on Monday and Friday, diminishing to a minimum on Wednesday. No surprises here. By the way, these data capture all absences, whether expected or unexpected. Speaking of expected and unexpected…
- This workforce averaged 10.61 unexpected and 8.24 expected absences per employee per year over the study timeframe. Seems like a reasonable number. However, considering the raw data for 2015 alone, this plant’s leadership was “surprised” 2242 times (for a workforce of 194). Not good.
- Interestingly, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was invoked 1,245 times over a 30-month timeframe. That’s 16% of all absences and an average of over 41 man-days per month. Hmmm.
Ok…got it so far. But what about that age thing?
In 2013, the most absent workers fell into the 35-40 year old demographic (Generation X), followed by 30-35 year olds (Generation X-Millennials), and then employees aged 60-65 years (Baby Boomers). Employees aged 20-25 years (Millennials) ranked fourth. Millennials dropped to fifth place in 2014 and were again fourth in 2015. Surprise.
Interestingly, Millennials were more than twice as likely to be terminated for absenteeism than the group most absent. Hmmm.
We interviewed six employees (of seven) who were on probation for attendance at this plant. All would be categorized demographically as Millennials. When we asked them about the rationale for their “sitting out”, we not only heard those stories, but in the same breath, were told repeatedly that these were employees who valued work and hoped to stay at the company for a long time. Sure…might we have been fed a line? Maybe, but after a while looking people in the eye for nearly 30 years, we’ve become pretty good at picking out truth from fantasy. So, you ask, what is it with this younger group of workers?
To a person…we determined they are more likely to prioritize personal over professional. That’s not work ethic. That’s work-life balance, and the research clearly suggests we Baby Boomers might take a lesson here.
A couple of other, interesting tidbits…
- If someone is having trouble getting to work, we might suggest they move closer, right? Wrong. Across the entire study timeframe, employees who lived less than 20 miles from the plant were the most likely to be absent.
- Employees who have worked at this plant less than five years…are less likely to be absent in the first year of employment, but that likelihood doubles in the second year (when probation periods are over?). This diminishes again between the second and third year (buy-in?) by just under 40%, and another 5% between the third and fourth year of employment. This seems to suggest that overly harsh policies on new employees may result in our terminating prematurely, and that patience and leadership might result in our keeping the next foreman, superintendent, or plant manager. Absenteeism drops again precipitously (in half) for employees after their 10th year.
- Back to the FMLA thing…our assessment is that enforcement varies significantly, and that employees are being granted extraordinary, unnecessary latitude in this. Tools provided by the Department of Labor may be useful in getting a handle on the Act’s implementation and enforcement.
Still think you know what’s going on with your absentees? Maybe you do. LGL Leadership tends to believe absenteeism is the symptom of an underlying problem (or problems). Acting without analyzing may result in outcomes we do not intend. If you want a hand, give us a call.