Absenteeism costly to economy
Workers who called in sick cost the Canadian economy an estimated $16.6 billion last year, according to a study by the Conference Board of Canada.
The report, released today, says the average full-time Canadian worker was absent for 9.3 days in 2011, with the highest absenteeism rates found in the health care and social assistance sector.
“Absenteeism is more than a human resources issue,” author Nicole Stewart wrote in the 12-page report, entitled “Missing in Action: Absenteeism Trends in Canadian Organizations.”
“It costs the Canadian economy billions of dollars each year,” she stressed.
The report noted its total figure does not include any indirect costs associated with a worker being away, like finding a replacement, delays and missed deadlines, and a reduction in employee morale.
The report found the reasons given for the missed workdays ranged from illness to long-term leaves of absence.
Workers in health care and social assistance had an average of 14 missed days, which may be attributed to the industry being commonly known for shift work, overtime, high stress, and workers coming in contact with the sick.
Those in the professional, scientific, and technical services industries had the lowest rates of absenteeism, with an average of 5.8 days.
These industries were not very likely to be unionized, noted the report.
It also found differences among those who work in the public sector, with the average number of absences coming in at 12.9 days—compared to an average of 8.2 days in the private sector.
Unionized workers also had a higher absenteeism rate of 13.2 days, compared with 7.5 days for non-unionized workers.
The report explained this could be due to public-sector and union employees typically being entitled to a higher number of sick days than those who work in the private sector.
It also found that women had higher rates of absences compared to men, with the average female worker away from the workplace for 11.4 days compared with 7.7 days for male workers.
“Currently there is no definitive explanation on why the gap exists,” wrote Stewart.
Young workers also had fewer absences than older workers, according to the study.
Those aged 20-24 missed an average of 5.9 days, compared with 10.3 days for those 45-54 years old. Workers aged 55-64 clocked in an average of 13.2 days.
“The incidence of physical chronic disease increases with age, which contributes to increased illness and disability among this group,” said the report.
Employees from large companies also missed more days at the office than those in smaller companies.
The number of absences for those in organizations with more than 500 workers averaged 11.1 days, compared with 7.5 days for those in offices with less than 20 people.
“In smaller organizations, there are fewer people [often no one] to cover in the event of an employee absence, and it is more obvious when an employee is absent,” the report noted.
“Smaller organizations are also less likely to be unionized.
“While these factors continue to lower absenteeism, they can also perpetuate a culture where employees come in to work when they are too ill and contagious,” it warned.
The report also noted that despite the cost of the absences, only 46 percent of employers admitted to tracking the number of days workers are absent and the reasons why.