Recently, there has been a great deal of attention given to the problem of workplace absenteeism. According to the most recent information from Statistics Canada, the average Canadian worker was away from work for the equivalent of almost two weeks in a year. Those 9.3 days lost translate to 2.4% of gross annual payroll, or $16.6 billion for Canadian employers in 2012.

Casual absences account for 80% of lost days for most businesses, and in most cases, these absences are not supported by any sort of medical note or certificate.

Absenteeism drives significant cost for the economy. In addition to lost productivity, companies may have to bring in a temporary worker or pay other workers overtime in order to attempt to recoup lost output. Product or project delivery may be delayed, customer satisfaction may lag, sales may be lost, employee morale may flag, key employees may get frustrated and leave…the indirect costs of absenteeism can be significant and long lasting.

Although some progress is being made in absence management, there is still significant opportunity in this area. Fifty-two percent of employers responding to the 2013 Sanofi Canada Healthcare Survey indicated that they have programs in place to formally track absences, an increase from 38% in the previous year’s survey results. However, only 32% of those respondents with absence tracking programs work with their insurance carrier or consultant to analyze their absenteeism drivers, and only one third of those use the results of this analysis to develop targeted improvements to better assist employees.

There are a number of things organizations can do to better address absenteeism in their workplace.

Have a clearly defined attendance policy—Ensure that employees have a clear understanding of the expectation of attendance and understand what is expected from them when they have to be away from work. Who do they need to call in to and how soon? When do they need to supply a doctor’s note? What happens if they don’t comply with the policy?

Identify roles and responsibilities—Absence management strategies work best when there are designated champions who own the process. When an employee is away, who’s responsible for letting human resources or payroll know, and at what point do they need to be informed? If an employee is absent several days in a row, who is responsible for contacting them? If the absence progresses to a short-term disability claim, what’s the process?

Track absences and look for trends—Take a look at absence data for your organization in aggregate and in subsets, for example, by location, or by business unit or department. Examine whether there are specific days of the week like Mondays or Fridays or during particular times of the year where absences are a particular issue.

Have a plan—If and when the times comes that you must take steps to address excessive absenteeism, have a plan and a process for doing so that is applied consistently at a pre-determined threshold. Make sure that the employee is aware of resources available to them to assist them in improving their attendance, like counselling or work-life services through your organization’s EAP, or the availability of a flextime program. Make a plan of action and a time frame for improvement, and follow up on the employee’s progress.

Similarly, have a plan in place for how your organization will deal with non-compliance to the absence policy, with the associated disciplinary action. Include information about the consequences of non-compliance in your attendance policy, so that everyone’s expectations are managed.

Integrate your absence management with disability management—Review your sick leave and absence policies against your short-term disability contract and your organization’s disability management policy to ensure that there are no gaps or duplication.

Use your data to build a strategy—If trends have been identified in your absenteeism data, like spikes on specific days or in specific departments for example, dig deeper for the drivers behind these absences and develop a strategy for improvement. Collaborate with your insurance carrier, EAP provider and/or advisor for solutions and support.

Your organization should also consider having strategies in place to support employees that require accommodation or flexibility while they are in treatment for a chronic or acute health condition through which they are trying to continue to work as best they can. Absences in situations like these may meet the thresholds for action set out in your absence policy, but are explainable, medically supportable, and may stop a progression to disability.

Many Canadian workplaces still have significant opportunity for improvement in the way absenteeism is managed. A strong communication effort to improve everyone’s understanding of roles and expectations, a mechanism to track absences and gather valuable data, and consistently applied processes will collectively go a long way in reducing lost productivity.

Kim Siddall is a vice-president and local practice leader at Aon. She has more than 20 years of experience in the health and benefits industry. These are the views of the author and not necessarily those of Benefits Canada.
Copyright © 2020 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on

Join us on Twitter

See all comments Recent Comments

Rebecca Milot-Bradford:

This is great advice.

Monday, April 28 at 4:26 pm | Reply

Add a comment

Have your say on this topic! Comments that are thought to be disrespectful or offensive may be removed by our Benefits Canada admins. Thanks!

* These fields are required.
Field required
Field required
Field required