How can I measure employee absenteeism?


Employee absence is more than just an empty chair. It is a significant cost to your business and that’s why absence measurement is so critical.

Measuring, then managing absence makes many positive contributions to your business. By improving the lives of sick employees and of those covering for them. It can even add to your bottom line by improving productivity as you reduce absenteeism and better understand your workforce needs and issues.

It’s risky to focus in on absence without first also considering the wider context of employee engagement. Focusing on making sure employees are present without considering why they’d rather be absent, if it’s not down to genuine illness, can certainly lead to more staff attending work, but conversely reduce the quality of their work

So, first, diagnose the types of absence your company is experiencing. Differentiate between long and short term absences in order to identify their underlying causes.

The way to achieve this is through accurately measuring your absentee rates. If you have a clock-in system, it’s fairly simple to gain a simple measure. However, if you wish to gain more in-depth understanding of your company’s absenteeism, more complex measures do exist.

  • The crude absence rate – This is the time lost due to sickness absence as a percentage of contracted working time. Its advantage is that it tells you what proportion of time you get from your employees. It is also quite simple to calculate and can help with costing. Absence rates can be measured by staff group, department or function, which can help pinpoint problem areas. Its major drawback is that absenteeism may be because a small number of employees are absent for long periods or because a large number are absent for short periods. Absence rates can look stable while absent employees may be increasing and the length of absence may be falling, giving rise to false conclusions.
  • Summary measures – Summaries can be calculated for individual workers, groups of workers, age groups, gender – or for the entire workforce. These can then be used to identify the most frequently reported causes of absence, identify patterns; identify individual levels and give trigger points for management intervention, as well as providing comparison between departments, staff levels or benchmarks against other companies. Both frequency and length of absence are measured.
  • Bradford Scores – When most staff work shifts, the disruption of frequent short term absences is usually greater than that of intermittent long term absence. Bradford combines measurement of absence frequency and duration to measure whether an individual’s sickness absence record comprises few, or many, spells of short or long term. They can indicate trends in sickness absence and are another way to provide trigger points.
  • Online absence management systems – These vary but, in general, all help identify absenteeism patterns and trends; some automatically calculating absentee rates for individuals, as well as highlighting commonly reported causes and trigger points.

However you do the maths about how many employees are absent, it’s worth noting the difficulties in finding out exactly why. How many were genuinely ill? Asking directly obviously won’t work. Another idea would be to hold an anonymous survey in which you ask if respondents have ever called in sick for reasons other than being ill?

Next, ascertain the reasons. If it is made clear that the point of this survey is to improve the work place, employees are usually happy to confess. They want change for the better just as badly as you. Exit interviews are another useful tool to uncover unpalatable truths about your working environment.

The sheer cost of employee sick days has such an impact on a company’s competitiveness, it’s critical that you review and manage how you measure and analyse it.

A simple tick or a cross in a column will no longer suffice. Effective absence reporting and measurement means you know exactly what you’re up against. This knowledge can lead you to early interventions on health, bullying or engagement issues, which in turn will dramatically reduce absenteeism levels – and give you a healthier bottom line.