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July 2017

Your office is losing 100’s of days a year to absenteeism: what can you do about it?

Written by Nathalie Leblond
Workplace Hygiene

According to Occupational Care South Africa (OCSA), absenteeism costs the South African economy around R12 - R16 billion per year. This equates to around 15% of employees being absent on any given day. When one looks at it this way, one can understand why absenteeism is possibly the single most expensive problem affecting business both locally and internationally. Some researchers estimate that South African businesses are losing as much as 17% of their payroll every year due to absenteeism. In the current economic climate, what business can afford that?

Shocking statistics around sick absenteeism

Sick absenteeism should run at about 1.5%, which means that for every 250 working days per year, the average employee should take 3.75 days off sick. Most South African companies have an overall absenteeism rate of between 3.5 and 6%, which is way over the acceptable limit, and equates roughly to between 8 and 15 days per colleague per year. In an office of just 50 colleagues, this would equate to approximately 400 to 750 productive days lost annually to sickness. When looked at like that, one can see where figures like R16 billion lost annually originate.

Further to this, stats show that:

  • 14.1% of the total sick absenteeism incidents in corporate South Africa are related to influenza;
  • 6.09% of the total sick leave incidents relate to gastroenteritis every year;

How does this affect your business?

That means that an average South African company with 50 employees could be losing up to 105 days per year due to influenza alone, and another 45 days to gastro.

That’s 150 days a year lost to infectious diseases; diseases which are spread - in part - by poor hand hygiene.

The main cause of absenteeism in the workplace

Dr Peter Barratt, Initial Washroom Hygiene comments “Hand hygiene is really the key to mitigating the risks when it comes to the spread of germs in all offices. Poor hand hygiene is the major cause for the spread of common office illnesses such as colds, flu and Norovirus. Businesses need to ensure they have the right facilities in place to promote good hand hygiene across the company. This includes good quality soap from dispensers, hand drying equipment and hand sanitiser stations.”

Poor hand hygiene is a major contributor to absenteeism because 80% of infectious diseases are transmitted by touch (Bean, B., Moore, B. M., & Sterner. (1982). Survival of influenza viruses on environmental surfaces. Journal of Infectious Diseases, 146 (1), 47-51) and cold and flu virus can stay alive for up to three hours on hands, and 48 hours on hard surfaces. So as colleagues wander around the office, coughing and sneezing, they are turning your office into a fertile breeding ground for infectious illnesses.

But, what if colleagues come into work sick?

Which brings us to presenteeism, the phenomenon of employees coming to work when they're sick and should really be at home recovering. Studies show that presenteeism costs companies up to four times more than absenteeism. This is because of the knock on effect presenteeism can have, which ultimately lands up causing your company a far bigger loss of productivity and loss of money than absenteeism does. When compared to absenteeism, presenteeism is less visible in the workplace and harder to quantify. But, if it really costs up to four times more than absenteeism, then it could be as much as R48 billion a year.

Because employees who come into work when they're sick don't function at their optimum capacity, the actual cost of presenteeism to your business includes not only infecting other employees with germs that could lead to sick days being taken, but also the hidden costs of a potentially lower quality of products or services; the knock on consequence of poor customer service; greater chance of workplace injuries; and time lost when tasks have to be repeated.

Make sure your office is better than the average

If the average medium sized South African company is losing up to 750 days a year to absenteeism, how does YOUR company measure up?

Investing in good hand hygiene is just one way of bringing those sick days back in line with the industry average. Another way is looking at whether your business has a culture of presenteeism, and actively encouraging unwell colleagues to stay at home and recuperate, rather than coming into the office and spreading the misery.

DID YOU KNOW: 15 October is Global Handwashing Day, an annual opportunity to raise awareness about the importance of proper handwashing habits to help prevent the spread of infection and reduce sickness.

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Nathalie Leblond

Nathalie Leblond

Nathalie is the Category Manager at Rentokil Initial, and has worked in the hygiene and pest control industry for 12 years. Although after 12 years cockroaches still have the power to terrify her, she has learnt countless ways to defeat germs both in the workplace and at home. She is a passionate advocate for Global Handwash Day and the health benefits that can be derived from regular handwashing and hygiene practices. When not contributing to the Initial blog, Nathalie is writing press releases for sister businesses, Rentokil and Ambius. You can find her on LinkedIn.

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