Rampant Workplace Absenteeism Hurting India's Economy

 @Gooch700
on December 07 2012 12:54 PM
Indian Bank Workers On Strike
Indian bank workers on strike Reuters

An Indian policeman has not missed a day of work in 14 years, gaining praise from both his colleagues and his family.

Baljit Singh Rana, 60, a police sub-inspector in Delhi, has not taken a sick day nor vacation since 1998, BBC reported.

A 40-year veteran of the force, Rana is a vegetarian and yoga enthusiast who asserts he never becomes ill. His family said that he did not even take time off to attend his three children’s wedding ceremonies.

"He has never ignored our needs or any work at home, although initially it did upset us when he wouldn't take any leave," Sushila, Rana's wife, told BBC.

"We used to feel that everyone else gets days off except him. But then we felt that this is perhaps his style. And after all, he has never left his family alone. He was around whenever we needed him. So we [became] reconciled to it.”

Rana, a two-time recipient of the President's Medal for Meritorious Services, actually retired from the police department in August but has continued as a consultant.

"One must take leave, especially in police service, which is a tough job anyway,'' Mangesh Kashyap, additional deputy commissioner of police and Rana's boss, said to BBC. "But he hasn't taken a single leave in 14 years. It would be difficult to find another person like him in the department."

However, Rana’s exemplary dedication to his job masks a larger problem in India -- high rates of absenteeism in the workplace, schools and even hospitals.

In an interview with the Economic Times, James Thomas, country manager of workforce management firm Kronos, said that “unplanned absenteeism” will hurt India’s economic growth.

“Absenteeism, primarily unplanned absence, is a huge challenge in India across sectors,” he said.

“Globally, 30 to 35 percent of the pay costs of companies are absence-related, which are expenses incurred on the leaves granted to employees. Ten percent of the payroll costs are linked to unplanned absence globally. In India, this cost is about 15 to 20 percent. It means if a company has placed 1,000 people for a project and 200 have not turned up, it is an unplanned expense that will directly hit the bottom line. If the cost leakage due to workforce mismanagement is 3 to 5 percent globally, in India it is three times that of the global numbers.”

Indian firms have started to crack down on wayward employees.

Express India reported that some companies have even resorted to using lie detectors on workers whose claims of illness are suspect, citing that one in eight sick days are probably bogus.

“Employers believe 12 percent of absence is not genuine and that these ‘sickies’ amount to 21 million lost days every year,” Susan Anderson, personnel policy chief at the Confederation of British Industry, said.

“Employers also believe there is often a link between false absence and weekends, holidays and special events like international football games. This technology could be very useful where employers suspect staff are abusing sickness rules.”

Hospitals and health clinics in Chandigarh in Punjab in northern India have installed biometric machines to record the attendance of nurses and doctors after patients complained about the chronic unavailability.

In Kanpur, in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, Ahmed Hasan, the minister of health and family welfare, suspended four doctors, after conducting a surprise inspection at a local hospital and found them not on duty.

"There is already a huge shortage of doctors in the government health setup, and absenteeism adds to the misery," Madhu Garg, general secretary of All India Democratic Women's Association, complained to Indian media.

A 2010 study conducted by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India, or Assocham, suggested that smoking, drug abuse and alcoholism play a large role in workplace absenteeism.

On the whole, Indian corporations report absenteeism rates as high as 20 percent, meaning one in five call in sick for various reasons.

The survey noted that 2 percent of India’s corporate staff are engaged in “self-destructive lifestyles” and that 29 percent smoke, leading to frequent illnesses.

Sleep disorders caused by stress also lead to chronic absenteeism. Nearly one-fourth of India’s corporate employees sleep less than six hours per night.

The resultant cost in terms of lost productivity, the study estimated, it is as high as 80 billion rupees.

Some companies have taken harsh measures against such workers.

Recently, the Jammu and Kashmir government in northernmost India suspended 36 employees for absenteeism without prior permission.

Professor Lant Pritchett of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, a senior economist at the World Bank, encapsulated India’s economic woes to Rediff.com.

“The capability of the Indian state to implement programs and policies is weak -- and in many domains it is obviously not improving,” he said. “In police, tax collection, education, health, power, water supply -- in nearly every routine service -- there is rampant absenteeism, indifference, incompetence and corruption.”

He added: “And that made me think deeply about India being a flailing State.”

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