Employees Taking More Time Off For Personal And Family Needs

Nearly Half Stay Home to Tend to Family, Personal Business Employers Slow to Adopt Programs to Help Manage Reasons, Costs

(RIVERWOODS, ILL., October 16, 2002) – During the past year, the American workforce was more likely to take unscheduled "sick" time in order to meet personal or family needs than for actual illness, according to the 2002 CCH Unscheduled Absence Survey by CCH INCORPORATED (CCH), a leading provider of human resources and employment law information (hr.cch.com).

Now in its 12th year, the survey, conducted for CCH by Harris Interactive®, indicates that nearly one-half (45 percent) of unscheduled absences are due to Family Issues or Personal Needs. While Personal Illness accounts for one-third (33 percent) of unscheduled absences, issues other than physical illness continue to dominate the reasons why people miss work. The rate of unscheduled absenteeism due to Personal Needs rose to 21 percent in 2002 – nearly twice the 11 percent attributed to Personal Needs a year ago.

Absence due to Family Issues increased as well from 21 percent in 2001 to 24 percent this year. Other reasons employees called in sick at the last minute included Stress (12 percent) and Entitlement Mentality (10 percent), according to the 2002 survey.

"Many employees have reprioritized their lives over the past year," said Lori Rosen, JD, a CCH workplace analyst. "We’re seeing that their loyalties are with themselves and their families. Employers will need to pay extra attention to this issue in order to strengthen the bond between their workers and their workplace."

While the overall rate of absenteeism has remained steady for the last three years, hovering at just over 2 percent, the cost of absenteeism continues to rise – increasing nearly 30 percent since 2000. With a 2002 per-employee cost of an average of $789 a year, the cost of unscheduled absenteeism has reached an all-time high, putting added pressure on employers’ bottom lines.

"Employers need to recognize this and re-examine whether the policies they’re putting in place to control unscheduled absences and support the work-life needs of their employees are the right programs for their workforce," said Rosen.

"The CCH surveys over the years have underscored the fact that absenteeism is a persistent and costly problem, made all the more complex by the reality that solutions need to be tailored to fit each organization and its culture," said Rosen. "While many companies rely on disciplinary action to control unscheduled absences, a combination of work-life programs has proven more effective."

Work-Life Programs Help Employees Balance Competing Needs

Work-life programs refer to employer-sponsored benefit programs or initiatives designed to help employees balance work with their personal life. The most common work-life programs reported by employers in the 2002 CCH Unscheduled Absence Survey include Employee Assistance Plans (68 percent), Wellness Programs (54 percent), Alternative Work Arrangements (53 percent) and Leave for School Functions (52 percent). Other work-life options can include child and elder care programs, compressed work week, concierge services and more.

Which programs are more effective at reducing unscheduled absences? On a scale of one to five, with five being the most effective, human resource professionals ranked Alternative Work Arrangements (3.6), Compressed Work Week (3.5), Leave for School Functions (3.3) and On-Site Child Care (3.3) among this year’s top work-life programs.

Effectiveness and Use of Work-Life Programs

Work-Life Program Effectiveness Rating
(1: Not Very Effective to 5: Very Effective)
Percent Use

Alternative Work Arrangements

3.6 53%

Compressed Work Week

3.5 49%

Leave for School Functions

3.3 52%

On-site Child Care

3.3 25%

Employee Assistance Plans

3.2 68%


3.2 47%

Wellness Programs

3.1 54%

On-Site Health Services

3.1 36%

Job Sharing

3.0 37%

Satellite Workplaces

2.8 35%

"It’s the rare person who isn’t struggling to balance the needs of their professional life with their personal life," said Rosen. "And, it’s hard for employees to feel compelled to put in the extra effort when their employers’ scheduling and time-off policies aren’t flexible enough to accommodate reasonable life events such as doctors’ appointments, PTA meetings or picking up a sick child."

According to Rosen, this inevitable conflict between the needs of the job and the needs of the family and self may even work in employers’ favor – if organizations implement meaningful work-life programs.

"Adopting effective work-life programs makes good sense not only in helping to reduce unscheduled absences, but in recruiting and holding on to top-notch employees," said Rosen. "Employees often make the choice to change employers based not on salary, but on the environmental factors that make their lives easier – factors such as on-site child care and flexible time-off programs that allow employees to schedule personal time off or take a few hours off at a time."

Employers appear to be searching for the right mix, with the number of overall work-life programs in use on the rise. In the past two years, the average number of work-life programs used by organizations has increased from 3.4 in 2000 to 7.3 in 2002, according to survey results.

More Work-Life Programs, Better Morale, Fewer No-Shows

Morale seems to matter when it comes to absenteeism rates. In fact, companies that report Very Good/Good morale had a lower absenteeism rate (1.9) compared to those reporting Fair/ Poor morale (2.4).

Additionally, the effects of September 11 were much more likely to contribute to a change in unscheduled absenteeism among those with lower morale. Specifically, nearly one-fourth (23 percent) of organizations with Fair/Poor morale reported experiencing an increase in unscheduled absences post 9/11, while only 7 percent of organizations with Very Good/Good morale saw an increase.

Those companies with the strongest morale also reported using more work-life programs than other employers, with an average of 8.4 programs in use by companies with Very Good morale compared to the overall average of 7.3 programs.

Organizations with strong morale also were slightly more likely to offer some of the more effective work-life programs, including:

  • Alternative Work Arrangements, with 55 percent of those with Very Good/Good morale using these programs, compared to 51 percent of those with Fair/Poor morale;
  • Compressed Work Week, used by one-half of those with Very Good/Good morale versus 47 percent of those with Fair/Poor morale; and
  • Leave for School Functions, in use at 56 percent of organizations reporting Very Good/Good morale versus 49 percent of those with Fair/Poor morale.

Absence Control Programs: Discipline, Paid Leave Banks

The Paid Leave Bank, also known as paid time off (PTO), is the most effective absence control program, according to survey respondents, receiving a 3.6 effectiveness rating on a scale of one to five, with five being most effective.

Despite overall agreement on the effectiveness of such programs, 41 percent of companies have not implemented Paid Leave Banks. By combining an individual’s vacation, sick, holiday and personal time into a bank of hours from which the employee may draw throughout the year, paid leave banks generally create a win-win situation for both the employer and the employee.

Because advance notice can usually be given, paid leave plans result in fewer costly surprise absences for the employer. Employees gain by receiving more flexibility and the ability to take their time in full-day, half-day or hourly increments.

"While HR professionals call paid leave banks an absence control program, it really is a work-life benefit as well," said Rosen. "Think of how much more sense it makes – and how much more productive it is – for an employee to take off only the two hours he needs to take his elderly mother to the doctor rather than an entire day. Everyone wins."

In addition to a Paid Leave Bank, other programs receiving a high effectiveness rating for controlling absences included Disciplinary Action (3.4) and Buy Back programs (3.4), which compensate employees for allotted time off that they do not use.

Disciplinary Action was ranked the most used program, with nearly all (93 percent) of the surveyed companies using this to combat absenteeism. With most employers reporting the use of multiple programs (on average 5.2) to help control absenteeism, Rosen cautioned that Disciplinary Action should be used sparingly.

"Discipline should really be reserved for the most egregious, repeat offenders and, even then, employers need to find out why the employee is not showing up for work," said Rosen.

"If it’s a serious health condition affecting either the employee or one of her family members, this may trigger the application of the Family Medical Leave Act," Rosen noted. "If the employee informs you that she’s suffering from a disabling condition that’s interfering with her ability to come to work, you may need to look at reasonable accommodations for her under the Americans with Disability Act, or you may find, based on what the employee tells you, that she should be referred to the company’s employee assistance program. Only after managers have ruled out these types of issues should they consider discipline."

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

3.6 59%

Disciplinary Action

3.4 93%

Buy Back

3.4 50%


3.2 54%

Yearly Review

3.0 81%

Verification of Illness

3.0 71%

No Fault

3.0 57%

Personal Recognition

2.7 59%

About the Survey

The 2002 CCH Unscheduled Absence Survey, now in its 12th year, surveyed 333 human resource executives in U.S. companies and organizations of all sizes and across major industry segments in 43 states and the District of Columbia. The survey reflects experiences of randomly polled organizations with an estimated total of nearly two million employees. The CCH Human Resources Management Ideas & Trends newsletter sponsored the survey, which was conducted online by Harris Interactive from June 25 to July 16, 2002. The data was weighted to reflect industry distribution as represented in the Society for Human Resource Management.

Mean absence rates were calculated by dividing total paid unscheduled absence hours by total paid-productive hours. Scheduled absences, such as vacation, legal holidays, jury duty, personal time and bereavement leave were not included.

Obtain a Copy of the Survey

To order the CCH Human Resources Management Ideas & Trends newsletter containing the 2002 CCH Unscheduled Absence Survey, call 800-449-9525 and ask for offer number 06280001. Price is $29.95, plus tax, shipping and handling.

About Harris Interactive®

Harris Interactive (www.harrisinteractive.com) is a worldwide market research and consulting firm best known for The Harris Poll®, and for pioneering the Internet method to conduct scientifically accurate market research. Headquartered in Rochester, New York, U.S.A., Harris Interactive combines proprietary methodologies and technology with expertise in predictive, custom and strategic research. The Company conducts international research through wholly owned subsidiaries—London-based HI Europe (www.hieurope.com) and Tokyo-based Harris Interactive Japan—as well as through its network of local market and opinion research firms, and various U.S. offices. EOE M/F/D/V


CCH INCORPORATED, Riverwoods, Ill., is a leading provider of employment law and human resources information and e-learning for HR professionals. The CCH Human Resources Group is among the nation’s most authoritative sources of employment law, including information on HR management, benefits, compensation and worker safety. CCH is a wholly owned subsidiary of Wolters Kluwer North America. The CCH web site can be accessed at cch.com. The CCH Human Resources Group site can be accessed at hr.cch.com.

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EDITOR'S NOTE: For more information, contact Sheri Cardo at 800-727-1133, ext. 1334 or Leslie Bonacum at 847-267-7153. Available to members of the press: Charts and graphs depicting the full range of survey data. This release and related information are posted in the CCH Press Center: www.cch.com/absenteeism. Also available to members of the press upon request, the new CCH book HR How-to: Work-Life Benefits.