Absenteeism, presenteeism costing economy more than R100 billion


Absenteeism and presenteeism are costing South Africa more than R100 billion annually – but employers can go some way towards assisting their staff, says Martin Neethling, Head: Sanlam Health Insurance and Distribution.

There are no quick fixes, but Neethling says focusing on employee wellness in the workplace should be a priority for companies.

“The maximum statutory allowance for sick leave is 30 days across three years. Managers need to keep impeccable records to expose incidents of ‘deliberate absenteeism’ – or what’s commonly referred to as bunking,” he says. “When an employee has been off for more than two consecutive days, or on a Monday or Friday, a doctor’s note is a legal requirement. However, that doesn’t address the problem of presenteeism.”

Beyond illness and injury, the causes of presenteeism and absenteeism are numerous and include a lack of funds to visit a doctor before illness becomes severe, as well as childcare or eldercare. Equally concerning are psychological reasons like job dissatisfaction, perceived unfair treatment, low morale or lack of motivation, boredom or bullying.

Neethling says that self-care was 2018’s top wellness trend, which has implications for the workplace, but an employer can assist by providing access to some day-to-day healthcare and wellness services for employees. These can include access to healthcare such as pharmacist, doctor, dentist and optometrist visits as well as radiology and maternity benefits. Healthcare benefits like subsidised doctor consultations as soon as symptoms arise or contributions towards yearly check-ups with specialists can make a tangible difference in the lives of employees.

“It’s about really understanding the reasons behind absenteeism. That means speaking to your team in a non-confrontational way to get to grips with what they’re grappling with every day. Some things are obvious – such as offering health screenings and free flu vaccinations ahead of flu season. Others might be less so, like offering access to an HIV programme that includes medication as well as counseling and pathology.”

Neethling points out that colds and flu cost the economy more than R2 billion a year and extended periods of absenteeism can often be linked either to illnesses associated with undiagnosed chronic conditions or to staff spending a significant amount of time at public health clinics, where queues can be long.

The global focus on employee experience means many employers are now offering ‘perks’ such as yoga and meditation classes at the office, as well as subsidised or completely paid for gym memberships.  

Finally, Neethling suggests that a number of employers are using online tools to measure employee satisfaction to look for signs of stress and impending burnout. “That’s when early interventions can really be effective to prevent complete mental exhaustion. With financial stress being so ubiquitous, it is also imperative for employers to see where they can alleviate some of this anxiety by providing access to healthcare.”  

Collectively, these measures could help curb absenteeism, thus seriously impacting a business’s bottom line. Today, employers have a variety of healthcare options to offer their staff for both treatment and prevention. From interventions such as on-site wellness programmes to primary healthcare insurance, medical scheme cover and gap cover, finding the right solution for employees can make a material difference.