Formal Staff Recognition

People with “perfect” attendance may be costing you money

As the world prepares for a new wave of the H1N1 flu pandemic, now would not be a good time to create a program to reward staff for perfect attendance. Likely there never was nor will there ever be the right time to exhort employees to avoid taking sick time.

The rationale for encouraging perfect attendance is to save on the costs associated with absenteeism. According to that reasoning, money is saved when the need to hire substitute workers is reduced or eliminated; workers whose perfect attendance contributes to these savings should be rewarded.

Such thinking may seem logical, but it is flawed. It may encourage people who are sick to come to work, rather than stay in bed. The term for the resulting phenomenon is “presenteeism”—being physically present, but not functioning well.

Establishing a program that recognizes staff for perfect attendance may also be seen as a positive approach to improving the attendance records of the chronically absent. Unfortunately, this approach is unlikely to be effective. No incentive will be significant enough to change the behaviour of those with attendance problems. In those cases, a stick may be a more effective tool than a carrot. Individual attendance problems should be addressed directly, with disciplinary action taken when necessary.

A recent study by the Cornell University Institute for Health and Productivity suggests that sick people should stay away from work. In fact, they should be encouraged to stay away. Doing so can save employers money.
The researchers estimate that people who come to work sick with headaches, arthritis, asthma, allergies and mental health-related problems such as depression cost employers in lost productivity—an estimated $180 billion each year across the United States.

Sick people are less productive. When people come to work while they are sick, they have trouble concentrating and take longer to complete tasks. In addition, they can infect co-workers, which can lead to further productivity loss.

First published in Briefly Noted by Nelson Scott, September 2009.

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