March 8, 2005--According to the 14th-annual CCH Unscheduled Absence Survey, last-minute no-shows at work are at a five-year high. The study found that the absentee rate rose from 1.9% in 2003 to 2.4% in 2004. However, the average annual per-employee cost declined in 2004 to $610 dollars -- from $645 in 2003.

"This trend makes it all the more important to closely examine why employees aren't showing up for work and what work-life and absence control programs can be used to help stem the tide," Lori Rosen, an analyst at CCH Inc., a provider of employment law and human resource information, said.

According to the survey, 38% admitted their lack of attendance had to actually do with some type of illness. Surprisingly, a full 62% (the rest) came clean and cited "family issues" (23%), "personal needs" (18%) and "stress" (11%) as some of the reasons they were unable to attend work. Ten percent felt they needed a day off ("entitlement mentality") -- so they took one.

Low morale was listed as a possible reason for this unexpected spike in the absentee rate. Companies reporting "poor/fair" morale saw an increase in unscheduled absenteeism. Forty-three percent of those organizations that reported "poor/fair" morale consider absenteeism a "serious issue." In addition to this, more than 37% of companies with "poor/fair" morale reported an increase in use of the term "AWOL" as an employee description -- as opposed to 15% of companies with "good/very good" morale. The survey also pointed to the decrease in employer-offered "carry-over" sick time, perhaps encouraging employees to use their sick time before fiscal-year rollover.

Some solutions offered were increased offerings of flexible work schedules, telecommuting, perfect attendance awards, disciplinary action as well as implementation of an absentee control program, which 91% of the companies surveyed said they use. Verification of illness also received considerable support with 76% of companies admitting the use of such a program.

The study was conducted between June 30, 2004, and July 23, 2004, by Harris Interactive and surveyed 305 human resources executives in U.S. companies of various sizes in major industry segments.