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At some employers, worker absences and the effects of those absences on overtime, productivity and quality accounts for 15% of payroll costs.

As the average age of workers increases and more workers stay on the job past the traditional retirement age of 65, many employers are wondering if the aging of the work force will lead to new absence management problems.

In reality, studies suggest that older workers are more likely than younger workers to show up for work and may be more likely to get the job done.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employers lose about 2.8 million work days each year due to employee injuries and illnesses. But attendance records are actually better for older workers than for younger workers, and a recent study sponsored by a unit of MetLife Inc., New York, found that workers over age 50 use 45% less sick time than workers between the ages of 25 and 35 use.

Older workers suffer from fewer incidences of acute illness and sporadic sick days and far fewer days spent caring for sick children. Although pension costs and vacation day costs might be higher for workers with more years of service, lower turnover rates for longtime workers translate into lower recruiting, hiring, and training expenses.

In addition, because older workers are less likely to need to maintain a 9-to-5 work schedule to accommodate family responsibilities, they are more likely to be able to accept a night shift or a flexible schedule.

Studies also have shown that overall productivity may plateau or even increase as workers age.

Older workers tend to be more accurate and better at making spot judgments, and their production rates tend to be steadier than those for workers in other age groups, according to a study published by AARP, Washington.

The authors of the AARP study also conclude that older workers take fewer risks in accident-prone situations and have lower accident rates than other age groups. Yet, some organizations may worry that absence management issues could also be associated with these workers and end up costing the organization more time and money in the long-term.

Of course, even though older workers tend to have lower-than-average absence rates and a strong work ethic, employers can always do more to control the cost of absenteeism for those workers as well as for workers in younger age groups.

The components of an effective absence management solution may include data and document management and reporting for all absence and leave-related procedures, the use of powerful tools such as health risk assessments and lifestyle management programs, and disease management programs for workers who already suffer from chronic medical conditions.

An absence-management program also can help organizations administer corporate leave policies, such as bereavement leave policies, and comply with government leave requirements, such as the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, and state and local leave laws.

Setting up a formal absence management program provides work force intelligence that can help the entire organization, especially the employees, by enabling employers to measure the benefits of both revenue and income of investing in health, productivity and absence-control initiatives.

Scott Azwell is the benefits domain practice leader for employee care at Convergys Corp., Cincinnati. He can be reached at Scott.Azwell@convergys.com.