Financial Wellness

The Cost of Unplanned Absenteeism Is Your ROI Really Your ROI?

ROI and Absenteeism

Is your ROI really you ROI or is unplanned absenteeism costing the workplace billions more than we can accurately project. American business loses 2.8 billion work days each year with a price tag of $74 billion for these unplanned events.[1] When we count the cost of caregiving for others; being elderly parents or sick and disabled children, are unplanned absences counted into our employees ROI?

The role of the caregiver and related absenteeism for other family members makes it even more critical for wellness programs to keep employees healthy by reducing risk and increasing presence. This article will take a look at six issues dealing with healthcare costs for unplanned absences.

  1. Known Absences
  2. Unplanned Absences/Care Giving and the "Sandwich Generation"
  3. The cost of Presenteeism
  4. Stress as a Secondary Risk Factor
  5. Unplanned Absences and the Importance of Wellness Programs
  6. Possible Solutions for Unplanned Absence
  1. Known Absences - This category deals with the estimated 450 million days of work missed a year by people that are overweight or obese and have one or more chronic health condition costing more than $153 Billion a year in lost productivity. These figures come from the Gallup-Healthway's Well-Being Index conducted January 2 -October 2 2011.[2]  

    This group includes workers that are overweight with BMI greater than 24.9 and obese workers with BMI over 29.9. These same employees will have one or more chronic conditions that would include heart attack, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, cancer, asthma, depression and recurring physical pain in the neck, back, knee or leg within the last 12 months.
  2. Unplanned Absences and the Sandwich Generation - An estimated 20 percent of Americans are absent from work to take care of other family members. These workers are known as the "sandwich generation" as they are wedged between taking care of younger children and older adults.

    Forty four million Americans are caring for an elderly relative with 60 percent working either part or full time.[3]  The caregiving employee provides ADL relief as feeding, dressing, toileting, bathing and minor medical assistance.

    The cost of both full- and part-time workers forced into the caregiver role costing employers $7 billon for their absenteeism. Eleven percent of these workers will take some type of leave of absence or FMLA while 10 percent will eventually quit their jobs to become a full-time caregiver. These figures are furnished by the national Alliance for Care Giving and AARP. [4]
  3. The Cost of Presenteeism. Work lost productivity is known as presenteeism. Presenteeism means people are at work but not able to perform at 100 percent. So this worker is present but suffering from mental and physical health issues, job stress and family illness or related problems.

    In addition workers may come into work while having flu symptoms, back issues or other medical problems and attempt to work through the condition rather than taking a sick day. This worker is often distracted from work tasks. Off task workers cost the work force roughly $250 billion a year or an estimated $2000 per employee. [5]
  4. Caregiver Stress as a Secondary Risk Factor - Care Giving and the stress related to Care Giving can promote other serious health issues. Research has shown that these other health problems can include heart disease, arthritis, cancer and diabetes. There is also a strong affective component to Care Giving that is shown to exacerbate levels of depression and anxiety.
  5. Unplanned Absence and the Importance of Wellness Programs - The major difficulty with unplanned absence is exactly that they are unplanned and hard to predict or project. Employees may go out on FMLA for 12 weeks with very little notice. [6]

    This leaves the employer with a gap to fill that may decrease services or the quality of the work to be performed by somebody less experienced. It may also engage employers to take on contractors at higher hourly rates. Worksite wellness programs become incredibly more important to work on the ROI that we know and reduce risk factors for the worker to reduce planned absences.

    The Partnership for Prevention has shown that by reducing one health risk, productivity can be increased by 9 percent and can reduce absenteeism by 2 percent. Reducing the risks for high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity now have even a larger impact to keep the employee healthy and present with the knowledge that at some point they may need to be absent to care for a family member.
  6. Possible Solutions for Unplanned Absences.-  Employers responding to the huge costs of unplanned absences can respond positively to reduce cost by promoting family well being programs. [8] These may include.
  • Support Groups for caregivers
  • Promoting EAP Programs
  • Educational Information on Disease and Disability
  • Promoting flex time shifts and telecommuting
  • Family run fitness and education programs
  • Attendance Reward Programs


How much are unplanned absences affecting ROI? How can we project ROI with the sandwich generation and the increased role of caregiving employees? How close are we really keeping tabs on worker absenteeism? Tracking absentee data is crucial for survival. Three recommended methods to track absenteeism include. [9]

  1. Using Intake - When employees call in over the phone or via email track the condition and refer for health coaching, EAP or disease management.
  2. Disability Information - Work to shorten disability and managing illness can reduce costs by referring to case or medical management teams.
  3. Use of Absence Data- This includes analyzing individual employee patterns of absence including PTO, sick days and moderate to chronic health related leave.


  1. Controlling the Cost and Impact of Absenteeism Cited 11/14/2012
  2. Gallup WellbeingUnhealthy US Workers Absenteeism Cost's $153 Billion Cited 11/14/2012
  3. Inside Indiana BusinessCaring for Aging Parents Affects Worker Absenteeism and Productivity Cited 11/14/2012
  4. Inside Indiana BusinessCaring for Aging Parents Affects Worker Absenteeism and Productivity Cited 11/14/2012
  5. Controlling the Cost and Impact of Absenteeism Cited 11/14/2012
  6. Controlling the Cost and Impact of Absenteeism Cited 11/14/2012
  7. Controlling the Cost and Impact of Absenteeism Cited 11/14/2012
  8. Inside Indiana BusinessCaring for Aging Parents Affects Worker Absenteeism and Productivity 11/14/2012
  9. Controlling the Cost and Impact of Absenteeism Cited 11/14/2012

About the Author

Rob Goldstein is an Exercise Physiologist/Health Educator that has worked in major medical centers as Columbia Presbyterian in New York, John Muir Health and Summit Medical Center in Northern California. Rob has worked as an Exercise Physiologist in Cardiac Rehabs and helped to develop one of the first Clinical Diabetes Exercise Program in the country.

He is currently a Clinical Health Educator for Blue Shield of California.He has worked as a lecturer for the State of California Employee Wellness Programs. Lectures include; Defeat Diabetes: Heart Disease, Stress Management, Weight Management and Woman's Health. He has provided trainings in other corporate settings on Substance Abuse, Alzheimer's disease and Fall Prevention.

He is certified by the American College of Sports Medicine and has a Masters in Recreation Therapy. Rob has also served in the United States Peace Corps, South Africa as a Community Health Specialist. Providing trainings on HIV and TB and also doing education on Heart Disease and Diabetes in rural areas.

Rob's specialty is finding a solution to help individuals and corporations with wellness and risk factor reduction programs.  "Every person and corporation is so different and needs a plan that will make lifestyle change a reality".

Learn about how you can become a Certified Corporate Wellness Specialist→