Days off aren’t free, survey of human resource administrators shows

No surprise here: Employees take more days off on Mondays and Fridays than on other days of the standard work week.

Maybe a surprise: Indirect costs, such as lost productivity, bump up the true costs of employee absences from 15.4 percent of payroll to about 21 percent to 22 percent of payroll.

Definitely a surprise to most workers: Managers spend an average 5.3 weeks a year dealing with employee absences and may be one-sixth less productive because of those chores.

A survey of human resource administrators by Kronos and the Society for Human Resource Management, released Monday, confirmed that indirect costs of employee absences — especially unplanned absences — hit the bottom line.

Paid days off as an employee benefit are direct costs built into many company budgets and represent 8.1 percent of payroll. When the costs of overtime and replacement workers are factored in to cover for absent employees, the cost averages the above-mentioned 15.4 percent of payroll.

But other indirect costs of absences inflate the true overall expense to nearly 22 percent of payroll, on average. That’s especially due to productive time being lost because time must be devoted to finding and training someone (from inside or outside the organization) to fill in.

Average productivity loss was estimated at 36.6 percent for unplanned absences compared to 22.6 percent for planned days off, according to the survey.

Also based on survey responses, supervisors were perceived to be 15.7 percent less productive, and co-workers were perceived to be 29.5 percent less productive when providing coverage for a typical absence day.

“Absences have real consequences,” said Evren Esen, SHRM’s survey director. “Most obvious is that they add to the workload of others. But survey respondents also said they increase stress, disrupt the work of others and lower morale.”

Esen said an absenteeism “vicious cycle” often ensues when stressed-out workers take their own days off to compensate for covering others’ absences.

Consequences for unplanned absences were cited as: adds to workload, by 69 percent of respondents; increases stress, 61 percent; disrupts work of others, 59 percent; hurts morale, 48 percent; reduces quality of work, 40 percent; adds mandatory overtime, 29 percent; requires additional training, 20 percent, and penalizes or reflects badly on group/team, 19 percent.

To reach Diane Stafford, call 816-234-4359 or send email to Follow her online at and @kcstarstafford.