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Absenteeism worth $16B

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Absenteeism costs the Canadian economy more than $16 billion a year, according to a study by the Conference Board of Canada.

The report, released Monday, says the average full-time worker was absent for 9.3 days in 2011 -- the latest year for which figures are available -- with the highest absenteeism rates found in the health care and social assistance sector.

The workplace absences resulted in the economy losing an estimated 2.4 per cent of the gross annual payroll, or an estimated $16.6 billion based on 2012 incomes, the study said.

The estimate does not include indirect costs such as finding a replacement, delays and missed deadlines and a reduction in employee morale.

"Absenteeism is more than a human resources issue," wrote author Nicole Stewart in the 12-page report. "It costs the Canadian economy billions of dollars each year."

Using Statistics Canada figures from 2011 and results of a 2012 Conference Board survey of 401 medium- to large-sized companies, the report noted the reasons given for the missed work ranged from illness to long-term leave of absences.

Workers in health care and social assistance had an average of 14 missed days, which the report says may be attributed to the industry being known for shift work, overtime, high stress and workers coming in contact with the sick.

Those in the professional, scientific and technical services industries had the lowest rates of absenteeism, with an average of 5.8 days. These industries were also likely not unionized.

It also found differences among those who work in the public sector, with the average number of absences coming in at 12.9 days compared with an average of 8.2 days for those employed in the private sector.

Unionized workers also had a higher absenteeism rate of 13.2 days compared with 7.5 days for non-unionized workers.

The report explained this difference could be due to public sector and union employees typically being entitled to a higher number of sick days than those who work in the private sector.

The Canadian Labour Congress said there is little difference between the number of sick days taken among public and private-sector workers when you take into account differences in age, gender and union status.

"Our position on that partly is that the reason why unionized workers take more days off is because they can, and that non-unionized workers, if they could, they would, and going into work sick is dangerous for the people themselves and their coworkers," said CLC economist Angella MacEwen. "We think there is a benefit to having negotiated sick days, so you can take those days when you're sick and when you need them."

MacEwen points out the report does not touch on the cost of lost productivity when someone goes into the office sick or if others have to take time off because they've come into contact with someone who was contagious.

The research shows women had higher rates of absences than men, 11.4 days compared with 7.7 days. "Currently, there is no definitive explanation on why the gap exists," said the report.

Young workers also had fewer absences than older workers, according to the study. Those aged 20 to 24 years old missed an average of 5.9 days, compared with 10.3 days for those between 45 to 54. Workers between 55 and 64 missed an average of 13.2 days.

Employees at large firms missed more days at the office than those in smaller companies.


-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 24, 2013 B7

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