Ben Bierman
JOHANNESBURG - Absenteeism   – an employee's intentional or habitual absence from the workplace – continues to be a major issue for many businesses because of the knock-on effect it creates for productivity, staff morale and a company's bottom line. Momentum Effective Index estimates that annual cost of absenteeism is as high as R25 billion.

While the impact on larger corporations is more significant, the consequence for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) can be crippling, given that many often employ less than 10 employees. 

The good news is that there are proven ways for small businesses to keep absenteeism among their employees down to a minimum. 

A positive company culture and personal engagement between businesses and  staff, for example, can limit absenteeism – more so than in their larger counterparts because staff is dependent on each other and individual efforts lessen pressure on the team.

Engaging employees regarding the overall performance of the company is another way that can discourage unnecessarily absenteeism as this will help them to better understand the role they play in making the business successful. It will also result in the staff feeling valued and appreciated.

Added flexibility can also assist with minimising habitual absenteeism. SMEs have fewer employees than larger corporates. That gives them an opportunity to implement flexible working structures such as allowing employees to select and swap shifts at short notice more easily. 

This however should not imply a lack of structure and accountability. It is essential that, regardless of the business’ size, absenteeism of employees is always noted and accounted for as if it is not monitored, it can quickly spiral out of control. The most efficient way to handle absenteeism in the workplace is by developing, implementing and enforcing a strict leave policy and guidelines with clear communication of what is expected from employees. 

It is also the right of the employer to request a doctor’s certificate should the cases become habitual particularly when they regularly fall on a Fridays and Mondays, particularly in the months leading up to the end of year holiday season.

Most employees are already stressed out by the rush and pressure to wrap up the year, or are simply already in “holiday mode”, but regardless of the reason, this type of festive season absenteeism can have a major effect on smaller businesses that require all hands on deck to be productive in their operations. 

As a result, certain businesses – such as those operating in construction and manufacturing that experience a “quiet period” during December and early January – may even institute forced leave or close the business for a few weeks over this period. Depending on the sector and the business’s resource requirements, this approach can yield positive results for a business as it also enables staff to return to work in the new year recharged and refreshed.

While employee absenteeism is widespread across the world, it is not all doom and gloom. Businesses owners can prevent it by putting clear policies and guidelines and addressing it early in a constructive and decisive way.

Ben Biermann is the managing editor at Business Partners Limited