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Absenteeism and the Impact on the Bottom Line: Hand Hygiene to the Rescue!

The “Great Resignation” and COVID-related absenteeism have challenged service providers to keep the doors open with adequate numbers of staff, making each employee that much more valuable. Investing in employees to keep them healthy is vital for retaining staff while ensuring the safety of customers. Adequate staffing is essential to keep the doors open and cash flow coming. Any reduction in the number of sick days helps to ensure the financial health of the organization.

About absenteeism

People are the most valuable part of any organization. Employers are looking for ways to attract and retain staff. Pre-COVID it was free pizza and ping pong tables. Now it is childcare, mental health benefits, work from home (WFH)[i], and, when WFH is not possible, a safe, healthy workplace. Ensuring that employees know the “why” and “how” of good hygiene habits can have a positive impact on overall health. Everyone wants to stay healthy.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) defines absences as “instances when persons who usually work 35 or more hours per week (full time) worked less than 35 hours during the reference week for one of the following reasons: own illness, injury, or medical problems; childcare problems; other family or personal obligations; civic or military duty; and maternity or paternity leave. Excluded are situations in which work was missed due to vacation or personal days, holiday, labor dispute, and other reasons.”[ii]

By using this definition, it is possible to calculate the cost to organizations due to absenteeism. Of course, part-time employees represent a substantial portion of hospitality workers[iii], and they are absent too. Their absence is every bit as challenging as those of fulltime employees.

The cost of absenteeism prior to the COVID-19 pandemic

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the average number of sick days in the United Kingdom was between 4 to 5 days per year. Based on an average hourly rate of £14.40 (currently equivalent to approximately $19.70 USD), assuming an 8-hour day x five days per year, the direct cost to the employer is £115.20 ($157.00 USD)/day for an annual total of £576.00 ($785.00 USD)/employee.[iv] Similar figures apply in the United States.[v]

These direct costs can be calculated per individual and/or as an average throughout the organization. The numerous indirect costs of absenteeism are discussed in this article.

Absenteeism during the pandemic

It is no surprise that the number of sick days increased substantially during 2020, the first full year of the pandemic and before vaccinations were available.

In the United States, more people missed work due to illness in 2020 than in the past twenty years. This chart covers the period of January 1, 2020, through December 31, 2020, and shows the number of people calling sick each day.