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Addressing Absenteeism: Let business create and save jobs.

published by Marianne Lancefield - Soma Initiative - August 2014

There is a plethora of commentary in the media on, inter alia, the plight of the unemployed, the number of jobs lost and continually being lost, cries to develop skills and protect industries from competition. What is overlooked, conveniently perhaps, is the lack of performance and productivity of the employed. Those fortunate enough to be employed in SA cost the nation approximately R12 billion per annum in direct sick leave costs. Unscheduled absence in some industries runs at 15% - 15% of the time scheduled to be spent at work, is lost through absence. SA loses about 17% of its annual payroll and 20% of man-days through absenteeism. Absenteeism goes beyond sick leave. It includes all unscheduled leave, including early departures from and late arrivals at work, feigned illness, attending to private affairs during working hours and such “absence”. Employers are often “afraid” of labour and do not take the lead of the law which, contrary to popular opinion, works in the employer’s favour, too. Employees are often “over-confident” of their rights, and underestimate their obligations in the workplace. The result is high levels of absence, poor productivity, additional absence-related costs and compromised profitability. This in itself threatens employment as unprofitable organisations lay off employees. SA needs to raise GNP by 3% in order to reduce unemployment by 1%. Unemployment is currently running at 25% in SA. Clearly, the nation needs to grow. We can only grow our economy by producing. We can only produce by being at work, and working. We need to get the employed “working”. Then, perhaps we can produce more jobs for the unemployed. It is an economic paradox, a dichotomy: we have on the micro level profit and productivity pressures AND on a macro level unemployment and GDP pressures. We have the unemployed crying out for jobs and we have the employed not fulfilling their employment contracts. To address the macro problem, Employers should focus on the micro issues on hand. Employers can boost their own profits by attending to the productivity issues. They need to get the workers back to work. They need to manage their absenteeism. If absentee levels are managed, productivity rises and so does profitability. Organisations then grow and further investment may be made in the business in the form of, inter alia, creating further employment, and employee skills development. Softening labour laws, reforming bargaining council systems, allowing the “poor” to negotiate their wages, developing skills, procurement policies, competition policies and defensive support measures are indeed, well-intended. The message that emerges is often that … “the solution is not about creating jobs, it’s about saving jobs”. However, our stance is that if we attend to the absenteeism issue we can do both: save the ones we have and create new ones, too. By attending to the micro issues, it is evident that the macro issues are addressed. Absentee management is about identifying, monitoring and addressing absentee issues within the framework of the law, collective agreements, employment contracts and organisational policy. In this way, Employers are empowered to manage their most vital capital, human capital and in the process to reduce costs, boost productivity and profitability. Employees are rewarded as their attendance promises potentially greater financial reward and more importantly, security of job tenure. Let business take action by attending to its selfish needs and as a by-product let the nation benefit. Let business create and save jobs.


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