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Are we entitled to absenteeism?

By: Michael Winter

Nobody goes through their entire working life without being unexpectedly absent at some stage, primarily due to sickness or a family bereavement. We accept that happening and realise it will happen.

But what happens when there are notable absences days after national holidays or long weekends or the like. Do we have a culture where a day or two off work is an entitlement? If so, How do we fix the issue?
A certain level of absenteeism is inevitable, no doubt, but it can become a massive problem when the privilege of enforced absenteeism is instead treated as a divine right. Also, if the temptation and habit is created, it can more often than not become more the rule than the exception.

As we all know, being absent from work doesn’t just result in your workload getting delayed for a day or two; it can lead to a loss of productivity that could cost the company a substantial amount of money. This then puts pressure on the remainder who are at work because in this day and age when an individual is absent there is a good chance that someone else will be able to take a percentage of the slack.
This also might create some resentment as this also often places others to perform tasks outside their job descriptions.

Regrettably, absenteeism is a major problem in Australia. Since 2010, the rate of absenteeism across the country has risen by 7%, while as much as 5% of the Australian workforce calls in sick on any given day.
To simplify this, in a company with 20 employees, there will be one absence every single day. An unexpected employee absence can cost a business as much as $340 a day, while the annual cost to the Australian economy of lost productivity through absenteeism is a staggering $33 billion, with a total of 92 million working days being lost through unexpected absences.

Even more frightening is that a large number of employers almost accept this level of absenteeism, rather than showing firm leadership and tackling the issue.

Why does this happen? Is there complacency? Do some managers have trouble showing leadership and authority? Has the professional and social lines been crossed?

Would this still happen now that you know the cost of these absences?

As many as 3 out of 5 organisations do not record absences properly, with up to 25% of absences going unreported. A common theme across Australian workplaces is that of an ‘entitlement culture’, where employees view absenteeism as a right to take, rather than a privilege to fall back upon when needed. They are let to do this by management who are too accommodating to intervene, for fear of an employee backlash.

Do these really happen? Has there ever been an employee backlash by all employees?

The problem of absenteeism is that it needs to be noted of and dealt with in an effective, immediate and professional manner. One step towards doing this is to centralise the recording of absenteeism, with all absences recorded in real time so that there is greater transparency between management and staff. This would also help management to notice any suspicious patterns of absenteeism, e.g. if an employee is repeatedly taking 2-3 consecutive days without justification, and policies can then be put in place to notify any such employee that they are taking unacceptable liberties with absenteeism.


The number of sick days per year
The rate at which employee absenteeism has risen since 2010
The percentage of the workforce that calls in sick on any given day
$33 Billion
Total loss in payroll costs and lost productivity annually to the Australian economy
92 Million
Working days lost in Australia per year
The percentage of payroll that this loss accounts for in total
The average cost of absenteeism per day, having risen from $308 in 2013

The average amount(per employee) that a business loses tot employee absenteeism annually


Travel, Tourism and Hospitality 11.9 days per annum
Transport and logistics 11.6 days per annum
Telecommunications and Utilities 10 days per annum
FYI: 3/5 organisations are not recording absence accurately
1:4 absences go under-reported

Absenteeism is 2 days higher for those who strongly agree that they had an entitlement culture in their organisation.

More than 70% of absenteeism is caused by an “entitlement” mentality

Entitlement mentality is a complex issue. Part of the reason we have an entitlement culture in Australia is the fear of management have in managing sick leave-it is seen as an entitlement to take rather than a safety net provision when one has an expected family emergency or personal illness.


The most common reason is illness: Cold, Flu, headaches, gastro plus home and family responsibilities.
39% of absences are due to stress, anxiety or depression, which have increased over the last year.

Good News:

21% of businesses have said had increased their annual spending on health and wellbeing initiatives to help support employees

So you tell me. Is absenteeism and entitlement? Do we have to change our culture within the workplace to counter this or, on the contrary, should workers be entitled to “leave of absence” days to allow some rest and relaxation once in a while to re-energise and return to work full of gusto the next day?

Is it a risk worth taking and should it be a negotiable clause in one’s contracts?
I’d love to hear what you think?

Added: 03-04-2018