Even amid Job Cuts, Worker Absences Rise; Stress, Management Relations cited.(BUSINESS)

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), July 6, 2002 | Go to article overview
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Even amid Job Cuts, Worker Absences Rise; Stress, Management Relations cited.(BUSINESS)


Byline: Tim Lemke, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Absenteeism is on the rise at the nation's biggest companies as the sluggish economy pushes more workers into less rewarding jobs, according to a study by a local firm.

Job stress, lack of responsibility and poor relations with management are causing disillusionment, the study found, and economic conditions make matters worse.

"In a downturn, when jobs are cut, one might think people would say, 'I'd better stay on the job, lest I be the next to go.' But with many big companies, we find just the opposite," said Mike Scofield, senior vice president with Nucleus Technologies Inc., the Arlington-based company that conducted the study. "Anything that increases pressure and demand on the employee will result in greater absences."

Nucleus based its report on discussions with more than 100 executives from Fortune 1000 companies and anecdotal findings from its corporate clients. During the past three to four years, absenteeism rose by 10 percent to 20 percent each year, the study said.

But other reports say absentee rates have either risen slightly or leveled off. A survey conducted by publisher BNA Inc. showed that absence rates during the past three years have hovered at 1.7 percent. CCH Inc., a human resources management group, said in its most recent annual survey that absenteeism rose from 2.1 percent to 2.2 percent last year, after hitting a decade low in 2000.

Most local Fortune 1000 firms said they had no hard figures on absenteeism. But none indicated it was becoming an increasing problem.

"I don't really think we fit that profile," said Norine Lyons, spokeswoman for Falls Church-based General Dynamics. "Our productivity per employee has gone up. That doesn't happen if people are taking off work."

Mr. Scofield said Nucleus' findings don't necessarily mean more employees are playing hooky. Rather, it's an indication that many employees have been less willing to drag themselves to the office when they aren't feeling their best. A happy, engaged employee is far more likely to come to work despite a slight cold or stomachache, he said.

"People's perception of whether they are too sick to work is colored by their incentive to work," Mr. Scofield said.

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