AMONG us in people management, it takes more than time, money, and effort to reduce the high rate of employee absenteeism in our organizations. Absenteeism causes a lot of trouble – low labor productivity and high overtime costs, to name a few. But it takes a lot of courage and tenacity to admit that we don’t know how to solve it, except to do excessive counseling and applying progressive discipline (reprimand-suspension-dismissal).
Some organizations even resort to positive discipline, by padding the penalty to delay its application so that it will take some time for management to dismiss the employees. Instead of imposing suspension without pay, dynamic managers allow erring employees to take “reflection” leave with pay to allow them to have enough personal time to re-examine their future in the organization.
Is this the right thing? Is it the right solution? Or in the first place, are we asking the right question, like the proverbial – how do we solve absenteeism? Think about it — if you ask the wrong question, you’ll get the wrong answer, will you not? Suppose we ignore absenteeism, or at least, focus on solving the double-digit absenteeism rate. If it is single-digit, then maybe we can allow it to happen from time to time, unless the result is costly and disastrous in certain work areas.
Besides, the command-and-control style of management is old-fashioned. In this high-tech age, why waste precious management time closely monitoring the physical attendance and punctuality of people in the office, when they can be productive elsewhere, all the time, even outside of work hours? Therefore, why not allow people to do flextime or telecommuting instead?
Most managers don’t have the time or inclination to think very hard about the solutions. We tend to pay attention to Jurassic rules, instead of what benefits the organization in the long-term. After all, just because you’re at home playing with your kids is no reason to stop thinking and working hard.
Conversely, instead of solving absenteeism, why not solve presenteeism? According to Gary Johns of Concordia University (Canada), presenteeism “involves showing up for work when one is ill.” It is considered a productivity problem, probably worse than absenteeism, when employees insist on trying to work even though they are hampered by physical or emotional illnesses.
Father and son Donald Mosley, senior and junior, alongside with Paul Pietri in “Supervisory Management: The Art of Inspiring, Empowering, and Developing People” (2011) claim that presenteeism can reduce a worker’s productivity “by 33 percent or more, and it is driven by employees who are trying to do what is right by coming to work even when they don’t feel like doing so.”
Presenteeism happens because employees are constrained by the no-work, no-pay management policy. Even if people have migraines, back pain, arthritis, flu, even emotional depression, they come to work to log in for their daily minimum wage.
In the Philippines, presenteeism is made more troublesome as the employees navigate through daily traffic, use an inefficient mass transit system, walk in unsafe streets and become possible victims of mugging.
Many managers don’t realize the problem of presenteeism and its resulting productivity losses. Ailing employees are physically present in the office, but they’re not working to do their best. And worse, they risk the chance of contaminating others, or may even contribute to product or service defects, if not endanger the lives and limbs of other people, fellow employees and customers alike.
If you still don’t realize the dangers of presenteeism, then think about the case of the Germanwings plane crash last March 24, 2015. News reports point to co-pilot Andreas Lubitz, who was allowed by Lufthansa management to return to the cockpit despite his alleged medical condition that made him unfit for work.
Of course, not everyone works in the airline industry. Some work in banks, hospitals, manufacturing plants, and government offices – where nincompoops are either elected or appointed. Really, it takes a vibrant thinker to look at the real problem and find a new avenue of looking at things differently.
Unfortunately, it is rare among us practitioners in people management to do things that matter as we rather gravitate toward the obvious absenteeism problem. Now, let me put you to a test. If you see your four-year-old son wailing with a bump on his forehead with your 19-year old yaya (babysitter), freshly-hired from the backwaters, standing nearby pleading as if nothing serious has happened, it’s a good bet to conclude it has something to do with her boondocks experience.
Rey Elbo is a business consultant specializing in human resources and total quality management as a fused interest. Send feedback to email@example.com or follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter for his random management thoughts.