On any given day, about 1,500 J.C. Penney Co. employees are on a leave of absence from one of the company's 11,000 stores across the country.
About 1,200 workers a day will be out on disability. It's a problem lamented in human resources offices across the nation as lost days of work can add up to big money. And in recessionary times when profits are slim, it's a cost that most managers would prefer to eliminate.
The nation's 300 largest employers estimate that unscheduled absenteeism costs their businesses more than $760,000 a year in direct payroll costs — and more when lower productivity, lost revenue and the effects of poor morale are considered, according to a 2007 survey by research firm CCH Inc.
Only a third of all absences are related to an illness, said Susan Frear, of the Society for Human Resource Management.
"The rest of the absences are related to having to be someplace else or they just don't feel like coming in," Frear said. "So a lot has to do with the culture of the place."
For smaller companies, experts say a different managerial approach can curtail habitual absences.
"Take a hard look at the climate," said Barb Ashbaugh, who owns Ashbaugh's Trade Secret LLC, a performance management company in Plano, Texas.
Ashbaugh said authoritarian managers "who make employees feel it's their way or the highway" cause most absences.
"I think a lot of managers, when people are absent, just write them off. Then as time goes by they say, 'Gee, this person has been out a lot,' " said Nancy Glube, a human resources executive in Atlanta. "If they're a good manager, they'll be in touch with what's going on in their lives."