The cost of absenteeism has reached an all-time high of $789 per employee per year (up $34 from last year), according to the recently released 12th Annual CCH Unscheduled Absence Survey. The total cost of absenteeism ranges from $60,000 per year for small companies up to $3.6 million for larger organizations.

Personal illness accounted for only one-third of absences, with family issues, personal needs and stress accounting for the rest.

Companies reporting "very good" to "good" employee morale had lower absenteeism (1.9 percent) compared to those with lower morale (2.4 percent).

Programs that help combat absenteeism include a compressed work week, alternative work arrangements and on-site child care.

Employee-driven scheduling choices can help companies reduce the often-underestimated cost of absenteeism, says Dr. Alex Kerin of Circadian Technologies. Workplaces with employee-selected schedules (37 percent of shiftwork companies, according to Circadian Technologies' 2002 Shiftwork Practices Survey) demonstrate higher morale and less turnover - both of which directly impact the absentee rate. Companies that rely on management to mandate work schedules risk continued unanticipated cost increases due to employee absenteeism.