Employees and pensions

Absence management: How to handle absences in the workplace

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Every company wants to keep staff absences to as low a level as possible. Nevertheless, they are a daily occurrence. Statistics show that employee absences in Switzerland have been rising for years. 

Here you can find out more about what your company needs to consider when dealing with absences, about strategies that can reduce absence rates, and the role of good absence management. 

What are absences?

In a corporate context, absences are when employees do not come to work. There are many different types of absence: short- and long-term, regular and occasional, planned and unplanned. Some absences are noticeable. Others less so. But for a company all absences have one thing in common: They entail costs. And the costs are considerable. Alongside direct costs such as salary payments, daily sickness benefits, and insurance, companies face indirect costs such as the loss of orders, project delays, and the need to hire and familiarize replacement staff – not forgetting the potential problem of finding suitable personnel.

In Switzerland, “planned” absences such as maternity leave and military service account for around 10 percent of total absences. Forty-two percent are attributable to unexpected absences caused by illness or accident, for example.

At Swiss firms, employee absences have been increasing steadily in recent years. Between 2010 and 2019, absences due to sickness and accidents accounted for around 70 percent and thus the lion’s share of total annual absences (in terms of length of absence). So what are the causes?

What are the reasons for absences from the workplace?

In Switzerland, chronic (non-infectious) conditions are the most common reasons for employee absences. The causes may be either physical or mental. What is striking is the rise in mental health problems at work that are attributable to stress. According to the 2022 Job Stress Index, three in ten employees were affected by stress – around 30 percent are emotionally exhausted. That is also reflected in absence rates: In Switzerland, the number of long-term sickness-related absences due to depression or burnout is currently at a record level.

Musculoskeletal disorders resulting in back pain are also particularly common according to the statistics. Unlike physical illnesses, mental health problems result in especially long periods of time off work.

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As an employer, what’s the best way of managing employee absences?

Of course, most absences from work are nothing to worry about. Nevertheless, employers should have an effective system to detect conspicuous absences. That enables them to give their staff timely support in order to avoid long-term absences and the possibility of a complete incapacity to work.

Systematic absence management can help. 

What is absence management?

Absence management is the systematic recording and analysis of absences in a company. Many companies use what is known as absence management software for this. Such tools allow notifications of sickness and accidents to be recorded and analyzed electronically. Absences are recorded consistently and the data can be compared over time, making changes and conspicuous absences visible. 

Many programs also produce automated reports and actively flag up conspicuous employee absences.

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    Sunetplus absence management software

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An indicator of employee wellbeing at the workplace

The indicators delivered by an absence management system can provide an initial insight into the wellbeing of a company’s employees. It can thus help find the causes of work-related illnesses. 

  • Are my employees exposed to mental or physical strain as a result of their work?
  • Do I need to pay particular attention to specific employees or departments?
  • How does my company support employees during periods of absence? 

Reliable absence data can help answer questions such as these. Moreover, together with Corporate Health Management, they can help prevent further absences.

How can I reduce employee absences?

Improving employees’ health and motivation is the most important factor in reducing absences. Corporate Health Management, or CHM, plays a central role in this.

CHM brings together all activities to promote employees’ health and wellbeing in their daily work. The aim is to identify the work-related causes of mental and physical disorders and take steps to mitigate them. That brings a lasting improvement in the health of a firm’s employees – and reduces the duration and frequency of health-related absences. 

Two aspects are particularly important: timely preventive measures and rapid help for employees if there is a risk of any incapacity to work. 

Preventing and reducing periods of absence

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    Prevention is better than cure: Corporate Health Management identifies health risks within a firm and seeks to counteract them using suitable preventive measures. The goal is to avoid absences arising in the first place.

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    Reintegrating employees

    Rapid help is required for employees if there is a risk of any incapacity to work. Care and case management specialists support employees and companies in successful reintegration. And that avoids long-term absences and incapacity for work.

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Takeaway: A win-win situation

Managing absences correctly is important for both companies and their employees. An effective, professional absence management system can play an important role in this. It serves as a database for Corporate Health Management and provides indicators that permit timely identification of health risks within the company. That enables you to give your staff timely support through mitigating steps as well as ensure they have access to care and case management specialists.

And that’s good for both sides: Employers who are committed to improving health and wellbeing show that they respect and value their employees. That improves the working atmosphere so employees feel happier and more motivated at work, and are more productive. A good work-life balance can contribute to the health and wellbeing of your employees and thus prevent high levels of absence.

In addition to the ethical aspect, a commitment to improving employee health has financial benefits: Corporate Health Management helps reduce the high cost of staff absences.  Work-related stress alone costs Swiss companies around CHF 6.5 billion a year. Every absence that can be avoided or shortened cuts costs – and that is good for your company’s profitability and competitiveness.

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