NU Online News Service, Oct. 22, 2003, 11:43 a.m. EDT – U.S. employers with poor morale spend more on unscheduled absenteeism than employers with good morale, according to survey results released by CCH Inc., Riverwoods, Ill.

When researchers from Harris Interactive Inc., Rochester, N.Y., interviewed 436 human resources executives at employers of all sizes for CCH in June and July, they found that the soft economy had increased employees’ motivation to show up for work.

The overall rate of unscheduled absenteeism fell to 1.9% this summer, from 2.1% in the summer of 2002, and the average annual cost fell 18%, to $645 per employee, CCH reports.

But the absenteeism rate at companies where HR executives said morale was low was 2.1%, compared with a rate of just 1.8% at companies where HR executives said morale was high.

Absenteeism ate up 5.3% of human resources budgets at employers with low morale but only 3.7% of HR budgets at employers with high morale, CCH says.

Although personal illness accounted for 36% of unscheduled absences, “family issues” accounted for 22% and “personal needs” accounted for 18%, CCH says.

The Harris researchers asked the participating HR execs to rate the effectiveness of 10 strategies for controlling unscheduled absenteeism.

Fitness facilities, wellness programs and on-site health services received the lowest average ratings. HR execs gave them effectiveness ratings of just 2.8%.

Providing alternative work arrangements and allowing workers to take leave for school functions received the highest average ratings. HR execs gave those strategies ratings of 3.5.

CCH notes that use of compressed work weeks and job-sharing arrangements has dropped sharply in the past year. The number of employers offering compressed work weeks has fallen 18%, and the number offering job sharing has fallen 19%.

“Layoffs have resulted in fewer employees on the job and, in many cases, more available office space at employers’ main sites,” says Lori Rosen, a CCH analyst. “As a result, employers may be more demanding about having employees on-site during business hours.”