South African Reward Association

August 2019

Curbing absenteeism with the right rewards

“The right balanced total reward programme can assist in reducing absenteeism,” says Nicol Mullins, Executive Committee Member at the South African Reward Association (SARA).

The number of employees taking days off work has risen so much over the last decade that Absence Management is now a standard HR function. Companies can even buy purpose built software to help them track and contain rampant absenteeism.

However, according to Mullins, it is a problem that needs to be solved, not controlled.

“When absenteeism is rife across an enterprise, it may be the tip of the iceberg, indicating a more general dissatisfaction among employees, which might be intrinsic or extrinsic in nature” he says.

Regardless of the cause of absenteeism, researchers of the topic across various industries agree on its detrimental effects to an organisation’s morale, productivity and profitability.

To name a few consequences, not only do employers not benefit from labour they’re paying for, but costs rise as present employees work overtime to catch up, quality is sacrificed, consultants are engaged for specialised tasks, or strategic opportunities are missed because key personnel are not at work or working.

A stressful environment

A 2009 study by researchers Halkos and Bousinakis concluded that absenteeism is related to workplace stress which results in low levels of job satisfaction.

In 2002, researchers de Boer, Bakker, Syroit and Schaufeli offered two theories for absenteeism. Withdrawal theory suggests that absentees are withdrawing from adverse working conditions while stress theory says employees develop stress symptoms because they are unable to cope with these conditions.

How rewards can help

The importance of a meaningful total reward programme in curbing absenteeism cannot be overstated.

“‘Meaningful’ means it must create value for the employees it targets,” say Mullins. That value can be financial, but where workplace stress is the culprit, rewards should be aimed at removing negative catalysts and promoting job satisfaction.

Two approaches suggested by Mullins are to develop clear opportunities for career progression and to foster a sense of ownership in the business.

“Employee-owned and family businesses experience much lower absenteeism simply because there’s a strong sense of belonging and growth potential amongst workers - a sense of ownership.” he says. “A company that can create this reality will experience a reduction in worker absence and improved productivity.”

Companies should also reward the behaviours they want to see.

Recognising workers who have been present for a high number of consecutive days sends a clear message to their colleagues that this behaviour is desirable.

However, Mullins warns that any such initiatives can only be effective if they are part of a larger, carefully developed total reward programme, which is both monetary and non-monetary in nature.

Getting rewards right

Engineering the optimal total reward programme for a given corporate environment or culture is a complex task, and today there is a specialised profession that has evolved around the process.

“Companies who throw a few benefits together and expect employees to automatically respond are wasting their time,” warns Mullins.

Reward practitioners are trained in multiple disciplines, enabling them to develop sophisticated total reward packages that promote desirable employee behaviours while supporting corporate strategy.

Organisations wishing to minimize absenteeism can contact SARA for more information on how to engage a certified practitioner.



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