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Leslie Bonacum
Neil Allen

1998 CCH Unscheduled Absence Survey - Work-life Conflicts? Too Stressed To Work? You’re Not Alone Says CCH

‘Sick Days’ Aren’t Just for the Sick Anymore, What’s an Employer to Do?

(RIVERWOODS, ILL., September 23, 1998) -- Unscheduled absenteeism skyrocketed last year, but not necessarily because employees were sick. In fact, "Personal Illness" as the reason for not coming to work reached an all-time low, according to the 1998 CCH Unscheduled Absence Survey conducted by CCH INCORPORATED. The number-one reason for these no-shows is now "Family Issues," according to CCH, a leading provider of human resources and employment law information.

The CCH survey of 401 human resources professionals from U.S. companies of all sizes across eight industry categories found unscheduled absenteeism has jumped 25 percent from last year and the average cost to employers is up by 32 percent. The survey was released today in the newsletter, CCH Human Resources Management Ideas and Trends.


While people are calling in at the last minute more often to cancel work, only 22 percent are doing so because they’re ill. In contrast, in 1995, the first year the CCH survey began tracking reasons for absenteeism, nearly one-half of all unplanned time off was attributed to Personal Illness. Most of the time, unscheduled absences are now due to other reasons. At 26 percent, Family Issues -- a sick child, family emergency, etc. -- is number one on the list. Personal Needs is also a top reason, accounting for 20 percent of unplanned time off.

Climbing quickly on the list of reasons is Stress, which in 1995 accounted for just 6 percent of unscheduled absences, but has tripled according to human resources professionals. The 1998 CCH Unscheduled Absence Survey indicates that last year, 16 percent of American workers taking unexpected time off did so because of stress.

"There’s been a significant increase in the cost and occurrence of unscheduled absences, and work-life conflicts increasingly are the reason," said Paul Gibson, an attorney and human resources analyst for CCH's Health and Human Resources Group. "Employers who want to reverse this trend are going to have to pay more attention to putting programs in place that address these work-life issues."


Employers recognize work-life programs can be effective in controlling absenteeism. However, despite the significant cost of unscheduled absenteeism -- as high as $1,044 per employee annually -- many companies have been slow to implement work-life programs.


The CCH survey examined a variety of work-life programs and asked respondents to rank their effectiveness in controlling unexpected time off. On a scale of one to five, with five as the most effective, the top ranked work-life programs for reducing unscheduled absences were Flex Scheduling (3.78), On-Site Child Care (3.63), Emergency Child Care (3.55), Compressed Work Week (3.48) and Leave for School Functions (3.46).

Three of these programs also were among the top five programs used by those companies surveyed. However, only Flex Scheduling, which 51 percent said they implemented, seemed to have made a true in-road among organizations. Only 24 percent indicated using Compressed Work Week, 22 percent authorized Leave for School Functions and 13 percent provided Emergency Child Care.

On-Site Child Care, which was seen as the second most effective work-life program for reducing unplanned time off, was used at just 6 percent of companies, according to 1998 CCH Unscheduled Absence Survey.

"Many organizations may be apprehensive because the perceived cost of instituting work-life programs is high," said Gibson. "However, based on the costs companies have reported, they’re incurring for unscheduled absences, they should be able to demonstrate that implementing an appropriate mix of work-life programs will have a positive impact on the bottom line."


In the survey issue, CCH Human Resources Management Ideas and Trends profiled two financial service companies that are among the growing number of employers convinced that employer-sponsored, back-up child care programs are an asset.

New Jersey-based Prudential is projecting annual savings of more than $80,000 in reduced absenteeism costs, as well as greater employee retention as the result of its new back-up child care center in Newark.

First Chicago NBD reports that, on average, employees taking advantage of the bank’s back-up child care program would have missed seven workdays without the center.

While both companies subsidize the programs to make them affordable for employees, the availability of back-up child care adds up to "pretty significant" savings, said First Chicago Vice President Linda Siebert Rapoport, the bank’s work and family manager. "When you consider the salary of the worker, management time and lost productivity, the benefits of back-up child care far outweigh the cost," she said.


While On-Site Child Care was perceived as the second most effective program in reducing absenteeism, it was not ranked in the top five programs implemented by organizations. Rather, the CCH survey found that by both industry and company size, Flex Scheduling and Employee Assistance Program (EAP) are the top two programs in use.

When looking at organizations by size, Job Sharing was one of the top five programs in use at the largest organizations -- those with 5,000 or more employees. In contrast, Leave for School Functions was more likely to be used at smaller companies, those with up to 999 employees.

By industry, Wellness Programs were among the top programs in use across industries, including Manufacturing, Health Care, Retail/Wholesale, Service, Government and Universities. Telecommuting was also a top-five program in most of the industry sectors, including Finance, Health Care, Retail/Wholesale and Utilities.

Universities were the only employers ranking Sabbaticals among the top five work-life programs. The Health Care sector was the only one to rank Child Care Referral programs among the top five.


In addition to work-life programs, another program many employers recognized as helping in reducing unscheduled absences was the use of Paid-Time-Off programs (PTO). PTO programs provide employees with a "bank" of hours to use instead of traditional separate accounts for sick, vacation and personal time.

Of the eight industry sectors surveyed, five indicated PTO was the most effective in controlling absenteeism. By company size, four out of the eight categories preferred PTO to other programs. However, as with work-life programs, companies have been slow to adopt PTO, with only 25 percent of companies indicating they use this program, according to the survey findings.

"Traditional ‘sick days’ often encourage unscheduled absences because employees have to call in ‘sick’ at the last minute when they may really be taking the day for personal or family matters that they’ve known about well in advance," explained Gibson. "However, they’re suppose to be sick, so they have to wait until the last minute to notify their employer.

"This can further raise stress for an employee who needs the time off, but is uncomfortable lying to the employer. It’s also difficult for the employer who has to scramble to figure out how to cover for the absent employee," added Gibson. "With PTO, employees have more ownership of their time off and how it’s used. This, in turn, allows them to schedule all but the most unforeseeable absences."


The attached worksheet provides information on how to review absenteeism and reduce it through paid-time-off bank programs.

As part of the 1998 CCH Unscheduled Absence Survey, some companies offered up-close looks at their successful programs for reducing unplanned absences. Case histories are available by contacting Leslie Bonacum at 847-267-7153.


CCH INCORPORATED, Riverwoods, Ill., is a leading provider of tax and business law information for human resources, accounting, legal, securities, health care, banking and small business professionals. The company’s Health and Human Resources group is among the nation’s most noted authoritative sources of employment law, including information on benefits, compensation, worker safety and human resources management. Its publications and software for human resource professionals include Human Resources Management, Pension Plan Guide, Benefits Guide and Payroll Management Guide. CCH is a wholly owned subsidiary of Wolters Kluwer U.S.

EDITOR'S NOTE: For more information about the survey, contact: Leslie Bonacum at 847-267-7153 or Mary Dale Walters at 847-267-2038. Available to the working press:

  • Charts and graphs depicting the full range of survey data
  • Historical survey data
  • Case histories
  • This release and related information are posted in the CCH Press Center:

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