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September 13, 2004

Ford, UAW targeting absenteeism

Ford Motor Company has been tallying up the cost of chronic absenteeism and finding that it is taking a toll on the bottom line. For every one percentage point change in absenteeism, the company states that it spends $100 million. In an article discussing the automakers and UAW partnership to target chronic absenteeism, The Detroit News recently reported that:

Absenteeism among hourly workers in the automotive industry runs about 10 percent annually, about three times higher than in other industries, according to a study published this year by the Automotive Supplier Action Committee, a trade group. At some Big Three plants, absenteeism runs as high as 20 percent.

The figures include vacations, paid personal days off and medical leave, but the most crippling problem is employees who just skip work. Managers must scramble to find hundreds of replacements from pools of fill-in workers to perform tasks for which they may not be trained.

... Automakers and many UAW workers say there is no excuse for high absenteeism. Line workers receive up to five weeks of vacation and 17 paid holidays. When plants are idled for retooling or slow sales, workers also collect pay. "Sick days" are not provided and are supposed to come out of vacation time unless itís a prolonged illness that requires a leave.

At contract talks last year, automakers and UAW agreed to crack down on abuses, and in a Ford pilot program, union leaders are communicating the issue to members, and the company is instituting disciplinary procedures for chronic offenders.

It is expected that the Big Three will all continue to focus on absenteeism and roll out similar programs to the one at Ford. While UAW is supportive of the measures overall, officials dispute some of the cost figures that the automakers use, pointing out that some of the absences that are being tracked are actually vacation or personal leave.

The article also mentions that the Japanese automakers experience less absenteeism, and they employ a carrot and stick approach: "Honda Motor Co.ís Ohio plants offer bonuses of up to $2,600 annually, but workers who do not maintain a 98 percent attendance rate are put into counseling programs. Toyota Motor Co.ís Georgetown, Ky., plant conducts drawings for employees with perfect attendance. The prizes: free vehicles.

Absenteeism is a topic that's much on the mind of employers in other industries as well, and it's an issue that's well worth addressing. It's certainly worth a second look to see why it is such an issue in some companies, and less so in others. Absence comes in many flavors. Our friend Dr. Jennifer Christian often speaks about medically necessary disability vs. medically unnecessary disability; there is also "earned absence" such as vacation or personal time, and many other variations on the issue of absence.

There are clearly abuses, and it's valid to drive out the abuses, but we would also caution that a one-size-fits-all solution to this complex issue might inadvertently throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water. We find that, often, programs are built to address the outliers rather than the average employee, and that building a program to the outliers can be unwittingly punitive to the "good" employees who represent the vast majority of the workers. We think that establishing fair policies, setting clear advance expectations, engaging in good communications, enforcing policies consistently, and exercising a degree of flexibility can go a long way to preventing or reducing absenteeism. Return-to-work programs can be a key strategy, and one that could often be better utilized to minimize work absence. Using RTW effectively often takes creativity and flexibility on the part of the employer. We've frequently encountered employers who have an "all or nothing" view - they wait until an employee is 100% recuperated before returning them to work, even though the employee could be productive with some temporary job modifications. Likewise, a doctor's visit doesn't have to mean a full day's absence.

Thanks to rawblogXport for pointing us to this article.

Posted by Julie Ferguson at 12:08 PM Link to, Comment (0), or E-mail this post
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