The cost of skipping work

Understand the consequences the consequences of skipping work


We’re all tempted to take a day off work from time to time, even when we’re not sick or attending to an emergency. But, when is missing work too much? Amanda Mtuli explores.

Absenteeism is when an employee doesn’t come to work without permission, but there is a clear indication that they will return to work. While it might not seem like a big deal when you or one other person in the office is away, it is if you consider that on average 15%–30% of South African staff could be absent on any given day. Suddenly, the numbers don’t seem so small. But, there is an even bigger number: the cost of absenteeism. According to workplace health and wellness solutions company Occupational Care South Africa (OCSA), absenteeism costs the economy between R12 billion and R16 billion each year. One day’s absence can cost a company three days’ worth of salary without active management of absenteeism, so it is in a company and the country’s best interest to manage absenteeism.

Why people stay away

Being absent from work is a complex issue that doesn’t only mean not being at work. According to the South African Labour Law Guide, it also includes arriving late, leaving early, taking extended breaks, attending to private business during working hours, feigned illness and other unexplained absences from your workstation. This means spending an inordinate amount of time on Facebook, instead of doing your work, counts as absenteeism. Two out of three employees who fail to go to work aren’t physically ill, which points to other reasons. Other leading causes of absenteeism are low job satisfaction, boring repetitive work and unfair treatment. According to a study conducted by the Society of Radiographers of South Africa on absenteeism and presenteeism (working while sick), absenteeism is the biggest problem that a manager has to handle on an ongoing basis.

Common types

Excused absences – this can take place on the spur of the moment, for example, you get a call from your child’s school because they are not well. It also refers to leave granted in advance, such as when you need to travel.

Sick leave – This is normally taken when you’re unable to perform your duties. Although this usually happens without notice, depending on the condition, your leave may be extended. Additionally, if the nature of the health issue would also place other employees at risk, such as chicken pox or pink eye, it is generally recommended that the employee take a day or several days off until the problem is resolved.

Personal time – Sometimes life happens and you need time away from work to deal with your issues. This can also be case when you’re feeling mentally drained after working on a big project. Availability of this leave is, however, dependent on your organisation.

Family responsibility leave -– Certain medical issues involving the employee or a close relative may require a longer period to resolve. Rather than using personal days for these events, the employee is able to apply for family and medical leave. This also applies when an immediate family member dies.

The impact

Though some of the reasons for missing work are not self-induced, many employers have procedures in place to ensure that the business can continue without too much hassle. However, when an employee is absent for a longer and suspicious period of time, it does raise a few questions and ultimately impacts the productivity of the business as well as disrupts the workforce. “Absent employees not only cause a burden to the company, but their colleagues as well,” says Ziyanda Maliwa, an HR consultant at a financial services group. She adds that absenteeism impacts productivity, target and service delivery, and could lead to financial losses and the overall productivity of the business. It also impacts the team’s morale because often others have to carry the load. In the event that an employee has been absent for an unreasonable amount of time, such as more than three consecutive days, Ziyanda advises that the following process be followed:

  • The employer must contact the employee on day four to ascertain their whereabouts and instruct that they report for duty the next day.
  • Should the employee fail to do so after being duly instructed, the employer may proceed to send a termination letter.

Managers should use their discretion depending on individual cases, but here are some guidelines:

  • First offence – Counselling and/or written warning, also referred to as corrective disciplinary action.
  • Second offence – Formal discussion with a final written warning.
  • Third time around – disciplinary hearing, which may lead to dismissal.

“Minor instances of absenteeism, which cause little or no disruption or cost to the company, require corrective disciplinary action. Only when the problem persists, should absenteeism justify dismissal,” says Ziyanda.

Management of absenteeism

South Africa has some robust laws that manage labour issues, including abseentism and leave. In addition, an employee is provided with an employment contract and the company’s policies that they need to familiarise themselves with and adhere to. “This information is provided so that the employee can fully understand what is expected of them while in the company’s employment. Everything, from working hours to leave days, is stipulated in the contract,” explains Ziyanda. It is also up to the line manager to communicate the steps to be taken in an event where you cannot report for duty or are late. “Management is also encouraged to engage with staff so that they know whether there are any issues that could affect their performance,” she adds. The company can also put in place an employee assistance programme in order to assist employees to better manage their daily stressors.

Last word

It is advisable for you to know that when a company employs you, work attendance plays a vital role. “When a company recruits new talent, it will be looking for someone to contribute positively to its vision by means of their skills and attributes,” emphasizes Ziyanda. If then you don’t report for duty, it will have a negative impact on the organisation. She advises that the reason an individual is appointed in any organisation is to deliver on certain tasks that have been identified specifically for that role. Therefore, when you don’t go to work, your duties cannot be fulfilled, l impacting the organisation’s growth and profitability.