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Leslie Bonacum
Neil Allen

Tug-of-War For Employees’ Time Continues As Workers Call In "Sick" For Reasons Other Than Illness

Problem Persists, But Employers Slow to Offer Effective Work-Life Programs

(RIVERWOODS, ILL., October 19, 2000) – With job and personal demands increasingly competing for U.S. workers’ time, employers have been slow to adopt programs that can help their employees strike a successful balance between the two, according to the 2000 CCH Unscheduled Absence Survey by CCH INCORPORATED (CCH), a leading provider of human resources and employment law information.

In the most recent survey, which was conducted for CCH by Harris Interactive, employers report that 60 percent of unscheduled absences are due to reasons other than physical illness, including such issues as family and personal needs.

Across the board, however, organizations have been sluggish to adopt programs to help employees better manage these demands. In fact, even human resource professionals who recognize the effectiveness of certain work-life and absence control programs in curbing absenteeism and its cost – averaging $610 per employee per year – report that their organizations have not implemented these practices.

For the 10th annual CCH Unscheduled Absence Survey, human resource professionals from U.S. companies of all sizes and across major industries were surveyed. Results of the survey will appear in the November 1, 2000 issue of CCH Human Resources Management Ideas & Trends, a biweekly newsletter for HR professionals.

"The model for how and when we work has changed," said Nancy Kaylor, a workplace analyst for CCH. "The line between work and personal lives has blurred as employers ask people to be available to meet work responsibilities even when they are not technically ‘on the job.’ Employees have stepped up to this, but they’re also looking to restore some of the balance that’s been lost. Through the effective use of work-life and absence control programs, employers can help people accomplish this in a way that also benefits the business performance of the organization."

Why Aren’t They Working?

More often than not, calling in "sick" has less to do with one’s own physical health than other reasons, the 2000 CCH Unscheduled Absence Survey found.

While Personal Illness topped the list as the single most common reason for unscheduled absences at 40 percent, reasons other than illness accounted for 60 percent of the last-minute absences.

Of that 60 percent, Family Issues was cited most often as the reason for no-shows (21 percent), with Personal Needs close behind (20 percent). Respondents reported that 14 percent of unscheduled absences at their companies are a result of employees’ Entitlement Mentality, with 5 percent of employees calling in sick to work because of Stress.

The results provide both good news and bad news for HR professionals, said Kaylor.

"You can’t cure the common cold, but you can do something to reduce the number of unplanned absences due to the non illness-related needs that account for most no-shows," she said.

Downward Absence Trend Offers Hope, But Real Progress Eludes Employers

The 2000 CCH Unscheduled Absence Survey found that employers have been slow to adopt programs that could help control the costly absence problem. While survey results show a downward trend in unscheduled absences – from 2.7 percent in 1999 to 2.1 percent in 2000 – the rate persists in hovering at about 2 percent. Cost per employee rose slightly over the same period, from $602 per employee to $610, on average costing companies anywhere from $10,000 for very small employers to over $3 million per year for large organizations.

To better understand how companies can reduce unscheduled absences, the 2000 CCH Unscheduled Absence Survey asked employers about their experiences with work-life and absence control programs. In many cases, the survey found that programs perceived to be effective by companies are not the ones most used.

Organizations Challenged to Align Work-Life Program Effectiveness and Use

Employers recognize that certain work-life programs can be effective in controlling absenteeism, yet when it comes to what programs they actually put in place, the two are often out of alignment.

As to why employers have been slow to change, Kaylor says concerns are twofold.

"Employers may have fears about the loss of control over their employees, as well as the costs associated with work-life programs. The irony is, they don’t have control today," said Kaylor. "In many cases, employees have taken charge, determining when and how they want to use ‘sick’ days. On the cost side, I think they’d be surprised to learn how costly ignoring work-life programs can be to their organizations."

Organizations can most successfully help employees balance work-life demands by reconsidering what a "work week" looks like, according to survey results. On a scale of one to five (with five being most effective), the work-life programs ranked highest by human resource professionals for reducing unplanned absences were Flexible Scheduling (3.8) and Compressed Work Week (3.8).

Leave for School Functions and On-site Health Services tied for the next most effective programs (3.6), with Job Sharing and Telecommuting following closely (3.5). Employee Assistance Programs, Work-life Seminars and Wellness Programs each received an effectiveness rating of 3.0, while Child Care Referral Programs rated 2.8.

As for what organizations put into practice, of the six top-rated programs for effectiveness, only Flexible Scheduling was used by a majority of respondents. Two-thirds (66 percent) of the companies surveyed use Flexible Scheduling. However, another of the leading work-life programs seen to reduce unplanned time off, Compressed Work Week, was offered by only 28 percent of responding organizations.

The work-life program most employers have in place is an Employee Assistance Program, with nearly three-quarters (73 percent) reporting use. EAPs, however, received only an average effectiveness rating of 3.0, as did Wellness Programs, which 41 percent of employers use.

Other work-life programs in use by U.S. employers are Job Sharing (25 percent), Leave for School Functions (24 percent), On-site Health Services (23 percent) and Telecommuting (20 percent), Work-life Seminars (15 percent) and Child Care Referral Programs (14 percent).

Effectiveness and Use of Work-life Programs

Work-life Program

Effectiveness Rating

(1: Not Very Effective to 5: Very Effective)

Percent Use

Flexible Scheduling



Compressed Work Week



Leave for School Functions



On-site Health Services






Job Sharing



Employee Assistance



Wellness Programs



Work-life Seminars



Child Care Referrals



On average, employers report that they have 3.4 work-life programs in place. The survey also found that the organizations with "good" to "very good" morale tend to offer a greater number of work-life programs (3.6) than those with "fair" to "poor" morale (3.1).

Effectiveness and Use of Absence Control Programs

The 2000 CCH Unscheduled Absence Survey also explored absence control programs and found that the most effective way to curb unplanned absences is to give employees more control over their time.

According to HR professionals, programs that encourage proactive, cooperative absence planning between employers and employees are the most effective means of controlling absences.

Here again, however, the survey found there was a disconnect between programs that HR professionals believed to be effective and those that employers actually put into use.

Paid Leave Banks (also known as Paid Time Off Programs) are seen by HR professionals as the most effective absence control program, with an effectiveness rating of 3.9. Paid Leave Banks provide employees with a bank of hours to be used for various purposes instead of traditional separate accounts for sick, vacation and personal time.

"Paid time off programs are seen as the most effective way to avoid unscheduled absences because employees have control over how they use their days off and, working with their manager, they can plan ahead to meet upcoming personal obligations or needs," said Kaylor. "Under a traditional sick-leave policy, an employee wanting to conserve vacation days may be tempted to call in ‘sick’ at the last minute for a personal appointment he or she may have known about well in advance."

No-Fault Systems are seen as the next most effective program, with a rating of 3.7. No-Fault Systems limit the number of unscheduled absences allowed, regardless of circumstances, and take specific disciplinary actions if that number is exceeded.

Employers found Disciplinary Action to be the next most effective program, (3.5), with Buy Back programs close behind (3.4). Under a Buy Back program employees are compensated for the allotted time off that they do not use.

Employers gave the Yearly Review process a 3.2 effectiveness rating, with Personal Recognition and Bonus programs tied at 3.1.

Although Paid Leave Banks were rated the most effective absence control programs by survey respondents, only 21 percent of the organizations offer them to employees, down from 27 percent in 1999.

Disciplinary Action ranks as the most-used program by employers when addressing absence problems, with 88 percent of the survey respondents reporting use. Over half of the respondents (58 percent) use the Yearly Review process to deal with absenteeism. Thirty-three percent of the organizations surveyed use Personal Recognition programs. Other programs in place include No Fault (31 percent), Bonus (21 percent) and Buy Back (17 percent).

Effectiveness and Use of Absence Control Programs

Absence Control Program

Effectiveness Rating
(1: Not Very Effective to 5: Very Effective)

Percent Use

Paid Leave Bank



No Fault



Disciplinary Action



Buy Back



Yearly Review



Personal Recognition






"In terms of absence control, it appears that employers are trying to combat the problem of unplanned absences using tools they already have in place, such as a yearly review process or routine disciplinary action," said Kaylor. "But if organizations are serious about resolving this issue, they need to step back from the day-to-day management of individuals who call in ‘sick’ at the last minute and approach the problem strategically."

Steps to Reduce Unscheduled Absenteeism

"There is no one-size-fits-all solution, and not all work-life or absence control programs are appropriate for all companies," said Kaylor. "Organizations need to understand the needs of their workforce and what programs will best support their people. Then, they need to carefully consider the cost and effect of implementing those programs against the cost of standing still. Only with that analysis can an organization make the decision that’s best for their business."

An enclosed worksheet provides details on steps companies can take to reduce unscheduled absenteeism.

About the Survey

The 2000 CCH Unscheduled Absence Survey, now in its 10th year, surveyed 150 human resource executives in U.S. companies and organizations of all sizes and across major industry segments in 41 states and the District of Columbia. The 2000 survey reflects experiences of randomly polled organizations with an estimated total of 899,425 employees. Mean absence rates were calculated by dividing total paid-sick hours by total paid-productive hours. Scheduled absences, such as vacation, legal holidays, jury duty, personal time and bereavement leave were not included.

CCH Human Resources Management Ideas & Trends newsletter sponsored the survey, which was conducted by Harris Interactive.

To Obtain a Copy of the Survey

Copies of the CCH Human Resources Management Ideas & Trends newsletter containing the complete 2000 CCH Unscheduled Absence Survey are available by calling 800-449-9525, and asking for offer number 06280001. Price is $29.95, plus tax, shipping and handling.

About Harris Interactive

Harris Interactive (NASDAQ: HPOL), the global leader in market research, uses Internet-based and traditional methodologies to provide its clients with information about the views, experiences, behaviors and attitudes of people worldwide. Known for its Harris Poll, Harris Interactive has over 40 years experience in providing its clients with market research and polling services including custom, multi-client and service bureau research, as well as customer relationship management services.

Through its US and Global Network offices, Harris Interactive conducts research in over 80 different countries in more than 30 different languages. Harris Interactive uses its proprietary technology to survey its database of more than 7 million online panelists. For more information about Harris Interactive, please visit its Web site at


CCH INCORPORATED, Riverwoods, Ill., is a leading provider of human resources and employment law information. The company’s Human Resources Group is among the nation’s most authoritative sources of employment law related publications, services and e-learning. CCH is a wholly owned subsidiary of Wolters Kluwer U.S. The CCH web site can be accessed at The CCH Human Resources web site can be accessed at

-- ### --

EDITOR'S NOTE: For more information about the survey, contact: Leslie Bonacum at 847-267-7153 or Mary Dale Walters at 847-267-2038. Available to members of the press are charts and graphs depicting the full range of survey data. This release and related information are posted in the CCH Press Center:



Ten Tips for Implementing Work-Life and Absence Control Programs


Here are some tips for helping your organization implement programs that meet the needs of today’s workforce and make sense for the bottom line.

  1. Find out why workers aren't at work. Track absences for a six-month period, conduct focus groups and surveys to pinpoint barriers to attendance.
  2. Take a demographic snapshot of your workforce to help understand the needs of your employees. Be sure to capture different employee constituencies, if applicable, to determine if there are any specific patterns of which you should be aware.
  3. Review your organization's policies, benefits and programs to determine what is currently offered.
  4. Measure usage of existing programs.
  1. Compare fit between existing programs and your workforce’s current and projected needs. If differing employee needs surfaced in the demographic snapshot, make sure your comparative analysis also considers these groups.
  2. Identify new policies and programs, or fine-tune existing policies and programs, that will fill these gaps.
  3. Consider organization culture and workflows to ensure proposed new policies and programs will be supported in the work environment.
  4. Communicate and reinforce the value of balancing work responsibilities and personal and family needs and the availability of useful benefits and programs.
  5. Evaluate usage/cost of work-life and absence control programs.
  6. Measure unscheduled absences at set intervals to determine if offerings continue to make sense for your organization.


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