Q and A - Glad You Asked

In addition to this column, members are welcome to post their questions in the general forum area of the APWA website at www.apwa.net. There, other members have the opportunity to post their answers directly. We also retrieve those questions with broad appeal for the "Q&A" column.

In a previous issue, "Glad You Asked" received an inquiry from Tim Ridder of Rock Island, Illinois regarding normal sick leave usage within public works agencies. Tim noted that lost time due to illness was twice as high in his organization when compared to a Bureau of Labor Statistics report for private industry.

The comparison between private and public agencies is certainly an issue. General comparisons often show that public agencies have much more generous sick leave benefits, thereby resulting in greater usage, than the private sector. However, it is important to know whether you are comparing similar data. For example, is the data reporting only sick leave usage for unscheduled personal illnesses or does it include appointments and care for family members? Consider also that many public works employees may have higher exposure to elements of nature and physical strain on the job than employees in other local government departments, which could explain higher usage.

An International Personnel Management Association (IPMA) publication suggests, "determining if and why employees exploit an organization's leave policy is important. Just as an employer analyzes turnover, the organization should also look at sick leave trends. Is leave usage higher in one department or under one supervisor? Are workplace practices or policies affecting absences? Do children's illnesses in turn lead to your staff's time off? Finding the root of problems will help you address the core issues." IPMA's website (http://www.ipma-hr.org/) is an excellent resource for information on human resource issues in the public sector.

The 2000 CCH Unscheduled Absence Survey reports that 40 percent of employees use unscheduled sick leave for personal illness, 21 percent for family issues, 20 percent for personal needs, 14 percent resulted from "entitlement mentality," and 5 percent due to work stress. CCH, Inc. is a private company that tracks, reports, explains, and analyzes tax and related law for accounting, legal, human resources, banking, securities, insurance, government, and health care professionals.

One agency shared with "Glad You Asked" that its average sick leave usage was 59 hours per employee in 2000. However, this number differed greatly when comparing hourly employees to certain administrative and supervisory employees. Another agency tracks their sick leave as a percentage of all leave taken (15 percent in 2000) and of all paid work hours (2.2 percent in 2000). Another organization reported on their use of a paid time off benefit that combines sick, personal, and vacation leave time. Such leave programs are increasing in popularity and have resulted in reduced sick leave abuse while adding flexibility for employees.

Be cautious when comparing your numbers (also known as metrics) to other organizations, departments, or industries. A consistent method of tracking your leave usage may provide enlightening information and pattern recognition to guide changes in policy and management for the benefit of any agency and its workforce. IPMA and the Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM, http://www.shrm.org/) both provide excellent resources with sample policies and tool kits to aid in leave program evaluation.

Contributed by Susan Gray, Human Resources Manager for APWA

Glad You Asked...

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