The missing link: using absence data to transform employee well-being

June 7, 2023

A dejected man sitting at a desk with his head in his hand.
Share on LinkedIn Share on Facebook Share on X

Absence utilization in the U.S. is at an all-time high. In January 2022, approximately 4.2 million employees worked part time because of illness, injuries, and other medical problems — the second highest percentage since data collection began in 1976 (Bureau of Labor Statistics). In response to the growing demand, employers must be proactive and seek innovative ways to address employee well-being. There’s one resource that many employers already possess but might not be leveraging to its fullest potential: data. Analyzing data to curate comprehensive well-being programs that address your employees’ critical health needs is essential for retention and supporting productive lifestyles.

The power of data

Historical absence data is one of many tools used to understand employee health and wellness. Other options like biometrics screening are also advantageous. In fact, 24% of small firms and 45% of large firms ask workers to complete biometric screenings that ultimately help employers better understand health and wellness needs of their workforce (KFF). However, employers can get a clearer understanding of employee needs by tapping into absence data points like condition trends, leave reason and average absence length. Because today’s employees consider well-being a top employment factor, it’s critical that employers harness all available data to create wellness programs that create a workplace where people feel supported. . Research shows that companies with higher levels of employee well-being report higher revenue per employee, lower healthcare costs, fewer days lost, and 70% less stress among employees. Additionally, they achieve two times higher levels of engagement than other companies (Willis Towers Watson).

Absence data can also guide in the development of preventive intervention programs that address employee needs. Primary prevention programs are commonly offered by employers as a way to provide support before the onset of disease, injury or illness. An estimated 54% of small firms and 85% of large firms offer primary prevention in their wellness programs. This includes voluntary benefit options like smoking cessation, weight management and behavioral or lifestyle coaching (KFF) programs. Secondary prevention includes proactive measures like screening before disease onset, while tertiary prevention is designed to reduce disease involvement with established patients.

Using absence data to build a well-being program may positively impact productivity and absenteeism. Consider a high-cost condition like diabetes. Without regard for trending leave reasons and conditions, a company might decrease coverage for prescription drugs or cancel a health coach preventative program to cut costs. Without reviewing absence data, the employer could unknowingly increase out-of-pocket expenses and contribute to poor prescription adherence for diabetes patients — resulting in increased absenteeism and decreased productivity.

Consider a leading absence driver nationwide, mental health. Absence data can tell us a lot about employee mental health needs. Data can be leveraged to identify mental health needs andguide in the building of a well-being program that sufficiently addresses preventative and tertiary benefit options. Providing access to the appropriate tools is critical to reducing absenteeism, confronting mental health stigmas in the workplace, and improving overall well-being.

The cost of absenteeism

The cost of absenteeism is significant: Productivity losses related to health problems cost U.S. employers $225.8 billion annually, or $1,685 per employee, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In fact, the indirect costs of absenteeism, disability or reduced work output due to medical issues may be several times higher than a company’s direct medical costs. Understanding absence trends and eliminating barriers to employee resources can reduce health and productivity costs and support the well-being of your workforce.

This content was originally published by the Disability Management Employer Coalition (DMEC) in @Work magazine.

Learn more > explore our disability and absence management services 

Tags: Absence, Absence management, Employee, Employee engagement, employee experience, employee health, employee wellness, Wellbeing, Wellness