Absenteeism, a key HR indicator

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Absenteeism, a key HR indicator

Long before the current health crisis, which only amplified this problem, absenteeism in companies was constantly on the rise each year (1). It is therefore not a one-time difficulty that HR managers and business leaders have to deal with. The management of absenteeism, and more specifically its prevention, is a major issue in the world of work. It is fundamentally linked to the health of employees and represents a key HR indicator for managers.

What is absenteeism?

A complex definition

Defining absenteeism is difficult because it is a complex concept that can be understood in different ways. Indeed, as the Anact (national agency for the improvement of working conditions) reminds us, there is no single definition of absenteeism (2). Some are based on the notion of recurrence, while others highlight the fact that the employee’s absence is deliberate.

To remedy this, the ANACT offers a definition that emphasizes the importance of prevention in terms of absenteeism, an element that we believe is essential to fully understand all the challenges of such an indicator in terms of human resources. Thus, according to ANACT, absenteeism can be defined as the characterization of “any absence that could have been avoided by sufficiently early prevention of the factors of degradation of working conditions understood in the broad sense: physical environments but also the organization of work, the quality of the employment relationship, the reconciliation of professional and private time, etc.” (2).

It is important to emphasize that not all employee absences are absenteeism and should therefore not be taken into account when analyzing this HR indicator. We can thus exclude, for example, absences for training, for maternity leave or for carrying out missions within the framework of trade unions or staff representation.

Variable causes from one company to another

Several causes of absenteeism can be identified without being able to be applied to all companies. It is up to the employer or the human resources department to investigate to determine the causes that prevail in their company.

These can be suffered by the employee, such as an accident on the way. If this concerns several employees, we may be faced with an indicator that points to a problem with hours or the pace of work that could lead to a loss of vigilance at the wheel. If it is an isolated case, the company can only suffer this type of stoppage.

A significant number of work accidents or occupational diseases must also question HR managers and lead to an audit of working conditions and occupational risk prevention measures.

Others may be indirect and result from less visible mechanisms such as the absence of work appreciation, management difficulties, the absence of professional development and thus lead to behavioral absenteeism, a sign that the quality of life at work is degraded.

Finally, chronic illnesses such as cancer or cardiovascular disease also account for a significant number of work stoppages. Indeed, according to the Inca, of the 400,000 people who face a diagnosis of cancer each year in France, 160,000 are in post (3). On average, the first work stoppage after the diagnosis of cancer occurs after 6 months and lasts approximately 10.2 months (4).

Absenteeism as an HR indicator

The consequences of absenteeism

The first consequence of absenteeism for employers is the financial cost. Thus, the Astares study indicates that the average cost of a work stoppage for an employee suffering from cancer is 8,000 euros by the employer(5). In total, work stoppages related to cancer cost French companies 771 million euros in 2017(5). This amount takes into account in particular the conclusion of replacement fixed-term contracts, the use of external service providers, the payment of overtime for the employee’s colleagues, etc.

For a more concrete example, the human resources consulting firm, Mercer, indicates that a company of 1,000 employees must deal with 1.3 new cases of breast cancer per year. He estimated the direct cost of breast cancer for a company of this size at 53,000 euros per year(6). In order to reduce this cost, Mercer proposes to act upstream by improving employee awareness of the risk of developing breast cancer and recommends in particular to integrate the Predilife breast cancer prevention report into the company’s HR policy. business, the cost of the latter being much lower than that caused by this disease.

It is also necessary to take into account the temporary drop in activity, the time to put in place replacement solutions, the disorganization of the services concerned, the revision of the distribution of the workload, etc. All these changes are not insignificant and must be carefully monitored by the human resources departments so that the quality of life at work is not degraded for the employees affected by these structural or organizational changes. There is a risk that the latter feel a higher workload without compensation, which can also lead to work stoppages.

What absenteeism means

In addition to the practical consequences of absenteeism on the activity of the company (productivity, finances, etc.), this HR indicator makes it possible to highlight certain points to be improved in terms of the prevention of psychosocial risks, safety at work but also quality of life at work.

Indeed, some stoppages are directly linked to the employee’s activity within the company. It is then possible to work on the causes in order to reduce the proportion of these work stoppages.

Others, such as those related to chronic and/or serious illnesses, do not, at first sight, depend on the company. But it may be interesting to go beyond the divide between community medicine and occupational medicine. The health of employees has its place in the HR policy of a company.

This is also one of the challenges of the law of 2 August 2021 to strengthen health prevention at work which makes the medical follow-up of employees one of the essential points of the provisions it contains, with in particular the introduction of a medical examination of mid-career (future article L.4624-2-1 of the labor code) during which prevention and risk assessment will play an essential role.

Implementing a bold health policy within the company can be one of the solutions to reduce absenteeism.

Solutions to reduce absenteeism

The health of employees is set to be a powerful HR lever. This is a request from employees since 75% of them expect medical monitoring from their employer(7). Concretely, this should lead human resources departments or business leaders to invest in risk prevention and awareness campaigns, not only professional, but also public health. Informing employees about the risks they have of developing a particular pathology, about the behaviors to avoid, about the screenings that exist are all ways of taking concrete action to reduce the number of employees who will develop cancer or to allow them to benefit from an early diagnosis. For many cancers, the earlier they are diagnosed, the greater the chance of a cure. This is particularly the case with breast cancer. Early diagnosis also makes it possible to avoid heavy and difficult treatments. Finally, this has an impact on both the number of work stoppages and their duration.

In terms of screening, the offer is no longer limited to screening campaigns organized by the public authorities (for breast or colon cancer, for example). Predilife offers prevention check-ups, namely a multi-pathology predictive check-up and a breast cancer predictive check-up. The multi-pathology prevention report is for men and women over 40 year. It makes it possible to establish a risk profile for certain cancers (colorectal, lung, skin, prostate, breast) and cardiovascular diseases. The predictive breast cancer assessment targets women over 40 (instead of 50 for the screening campaign organized by the public authorities). These predictive assessments, which are based on predictive medicine and artificial intelligence, can be deployed within companies in complete confidentiality so that employees can benefit from personalized advice on prevention. Without time or travel constraints thanks to teleconsultation, they are easy to set up and integrate into an active health policy that is not content with a declaration of principles.


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(1) https://blog.goalmap.com/qvt-solution-gerer-absenteisme-au-travail/ (2) https://www.anact.fr/10-questions-sur-labsenteisme (3) https://www.e-cancer.fr/Expertises-et-publications/Catalogue-des-publications/La-vie-cinq-ans-apres-un-diagnostic-de-cancer-Rapport (4) https://asteres.fr/site/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/ASTERES-CANCER-FEV-2020-compresse.pdf (5) https://blog.goalmap.com/qvt-solution-gerer-absenteisme-au-travail/