Absenteeism: A Chronic Problem

Absenteeism: A Chronic Problem - Suresh Lulla

Three decades back, the Quality Council of a steel plant in India, was chaired by the Managing Director, Dr I I Jamshed. The members of the Council had collectively selected “absenteeism” as one of the five pilot projects to be solved by the Juran on Quality Improvement (JQI) methodology. The business case for this selection included high visibility and ease of understanding the chronic problem, organization-wide.

Being a pilot JQI project, the focus was restricted to the Tubes Division. The Tubes Division was the smallest profit-centre accounting for 10 percent of the profit of the steel plant.

In defining the problem, the Works Manager, Mr V Firdaus, focused on the following Cost Of Poor Quality (COPQ) factors traceable to absenteeism:

  1. The cost of a daily “badli” (substitute) worker, who was obviously not as well trained as the absent worker.
  2. The variation in tube lengths resulting from the “badli” work. This led to additional steps of cutting and trimming  the tubes, burdening production with more physical waste and loss of productivity.

All quite elementary. But what was the COPQ? A non-debateable Rs 1,400,000 per month! Multiply this by 12 months and you have an alarming annual COPQ that eroded the profit.

The JQI project team commenced the diagnostic journey by meeting a sample of absent workers at home. Here is a sample of a conversation with a healthy worker:

“Why are you absent, Sardar?”

“My son is not well.”

“Is it serious?”

“No. Just a simple cough and cold.”

“In which case, why are you absent?”

“Sir. It’s like this. When I went to our on-site hospital, the paperwork took three hours. Then I waited in another line to meet the doctor. That was another hour. Thereafter, I waited for half an hour for the prescribed medication. By which time, Sir, you had already marked me absent for a full day.”


  1. What should Mr V Firdaus and the JQI project team do next?
  2. How should Dr I I Jamshed measure the gains from the remedy of this pilot project?

2 thoughts on “Absenteeism: A Chronic Problem”

  • Since the doctor is in-house (I presume) he should have all the records of plant employees, so that just with one number (employees nu.) Doctor would know the details & lengthy paper work could be avoided. Profit of creating such a system is COPQ-System creation cost, which will be huge annually.

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