Are schools and districts causing employee absences?
Teachers and other educational employees often have to be absent — for illness, jury duty or any number of personal reasons. But do you know how often employees are pulled out of their work for absences driven by your school or district?
These “professionally-related absences” are often overlooked in discussions around employee absences, and yet they are significant and unique for several reasons:
- They impact multiple departments at the district and school level
- They can usually be planned in advance (but often are not communicated in advance!)
- They’re costly, accounting for nearly 1 in 5 of all absences
So how often are employees pulled out of the classroom or other work for professional reasons? Are these absences usually filled with a qualified substitute? Are teams working together to minimize the impact on instructional time?
To get the answers to these questions and more, we looked at a recent report by the Frontline Research and Learning Institute, representing data from more than 8,500 educational organizations.
Here are a few of the key findings.
Absence Causes: Why Are Employees Out?
We looked at employee absences from July 2012 through June 2015. Here are the top reasons why employees were absent:
Not surprisingly, illness is at the top of the list, accounting for nearly half of all absences, followed by personal time off. But don’t miss the next two — both are professionally-related absences.
If you total all of the professionally-related absences, they account for 19% — nearly 1 in 5 — of all absences. Of those, more than half are specifically for professional development.
Those professional absences – more than 16 million over the last three years – are also much more likely to be taken by employees in positions requiring a substitute to cover their absences.
Fill Rates: Are Absences Getting Filled?
The report showed that over a three-year period, fill rates (the ability to find a substitute) have steadily declined for all types of absences.
Many districts attribute this decline to a substitute shortage. But another important factor in fill rates is absence lead time — how far in advance the absence is entered before the start time.
Surprisingly, nearly a third of professional absences are reported within four days of the absence. More than half are reported less than 10 days in advance.
The data shows that shorter notice (and less time to find a substitute for the absence) directly correlates to lower fill rates.
So why aren’t these absences – most of which are probably known well in advance – reported earlier? Are district teams aware of the issues that short notice can cause, and are they working together to prevent it?
Our survey results said: not so much.
A Difference in Perception
In our survey of nearly 700 districts, we asked district leaders to estimate the percentage of total absences that were for professional reasons. They weren’t far off in their estimates, but what was interesting was how different roles responded.
Curriculum & Instruction and Superintendents: estimated professionally-related absences to be relatively infrequent
Human Resources and Business/Finance: estimated professionally-related absences to be relatively frequent
Their suggested approaches for dealing with these absences were different, too:
Curriculum & Instruction and Superintendents: thought current professional absence levels should be maintained or increased
Human Resources and Business/Finance: thought current professional absence levels should be decreased
A Lack of Collaboration
Clearly, there is a disconnect in perception. Unfortunately, there is also a disconnect when it comes to collaboration on managing professionally-related absences.
In fact, 40% of respondents said collaboration is rare or non-existent between the Human Resources and Curriculum & Instruction teams around this important employee issue.
Collaboration Between Human Resources and Instructional Departments
In keeping with the other results, Human Resources personnel perceived even less collaboration than their counterparts in Curriculum & Instruction.
It seems that the two departments most involved in managing professional absences are not talking to each other. When that disconnect happens, what are the impacts?
- Pressure on principals to fill last-minute absences
- Frustration for employees not driving their own professional development activities
- Lost instructional time for students when the teacher is absent
Strategies for Collaborating on Professionally Related Absences