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The Importance of Understanding and Identifying Employee Absence Behavior

Fotolia_65308168_XSI’ve been thinking a lot recently about tracking, reporting, and analytics for employee absence following a long project that I completed with a Canadian customer to implement the SuccessFactors Absence Management Metrics Pack. I also recently came across a thought-provoking blog about the constant need for employees working for United States companies to always be connected, even when on vacation (Visier’s Do Workations Increase Employee Absenteeism).

I’ve been working with customers for over eight years implementing the SuccessFactors Workforce Analytics and Planning platform, and during that time I’ve implemented most of the SuccessFactors Metrics Packs, but until recently I had never implemented the one for Absence Management. Oddly enough, it’s one of the original SuccessFactors Metrics Packs and is implemented quite often with Australian and European customers, but rarely with North American customers, so I was really excited to have this opportunity to work with this data and discover how a company might be able to use the insight from it to strategically manage the employee workforce.

I talked with some of my colleagues when I was starting the implementation, and their belief was that most companies do pay attention to absence data, especially if they have large call center populations. While that may be true, my perspective and experience is that organizations tend to focus more on the process and operational side of employee absence to manage scheduling and workloads, without exploring the strategic aspects and discovering how absence can impact employee productivity and retention, as well as the overall cost of employee absence to the organization.

The Visier blog looks at the relationship between how employees feel the need to never truly unplug from work (even during vacation), absence, and employee productivity. For the author, Ian Cook, employee absence is a way for an organization to predict employee productivity and costs. The blog recommends some data points to better understand how absence data can be a predictor of productivity. Cook’s theory is that if people are always working during their vacation or not taking vacations at all, then they’re more likely to call in “sick.”

So why is it a problem to call in sick? This is categorized as an unscheduled absence in the SuccessFactors Absence Management Metrics Pack. These unscheduled absences may not only indicate potential burnout behavior for those that are taking them, but also put undue stress and additional burden on others who have to unexpectedly cover for the absent employee. Understanding the number, percentage, and type of unscheduled absences can be very telling for an organization. Also, even more insightful is being able to understand if these absences are adjoining holidays or weekends. Looking across the company at times when people take unscheduled absences can be especially telling about policies/procedures that are preventing people from scheduling time off, and identifying where employees are finding ways to take the time off anyway.

On the opposite side, I believe that it is just as important to understand the amount of scheduled time off an employee is taking. Are organizations encouraging employees to take the vacation/holiday time they have coming to them? Based on the research, employees are more productive and provide more value to the organization when they are working reasonable hours and able to balance work and life.

I encourage organizations to better understand their absence data and be able to answer the following questions about their workforce absence patterns:

  1. What areas of the organization have the highest number of unscheduled absences? As a ratio of the total population how does that compare to other parts of the organization?
  2. Are there particular managers or departments that have extremely high-levels of unscheduled absences?
  3. What is the relationship between unscheduled and scheduled absences in the organization? Are there places where managers or departments do a really good job of encouraging employees to take and schedule time off?
  4. What is the cost of unscheduled absence to the organization? If an employee calls in sick, do certain parts of the business not operate? What is the cost of scheduled absence? How can the organization quantify the difference?
  5. Are there areas of unscheduled absence that have concerning patterns? Always adjoining a holiday or weekend? Do changes in policies and procedures need to be examined?


Asking these questions of your organization and evaluating the answers is a first step to identifying the needs of your employees and their absence patterns. Looking at the data around this will help your organization better identify what it needs to change or do differently in a strategic manner that benefits both parties.

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Jamie Strnisha

Jamie Strnisha is a consultant with the Workforce Analytics practice.

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