Unplanned absence from work is said to cost over 40 million work days per year in the UK alone, which is a huge percentage of production time lost.
Is there anything you can do to manage absenteeism without risking claims of discrimination? Yes, there is. There are several things you can do to protect your team and business, including a) understand the scale of the problem, b) discover the underlying causes and c) take a positive and methodical approach to solving the problem. You can read some interesting ways to get absentees back to work here
First, can you actually measure the effects of absence?
One way is the Bradford Factor, which takes account of the fact that persistent short spells of absence are much more costly and disruptive than occasional long ones. It measures irregularity of attendance as follows:
Bradford Factor = S x S x D
In this equation, S = the number of spells of absence over a time period (say, one year), and D is the number of days absence in the same period.
For example, if a person has been absent for one period of 10 days, the figures would read: 1 x 1 x 10, which equals 10.
But if they were absent for 10 separate days over the same period, the figures would read: 10 x 10 x 10, which equals 1,000.
It may only be a crude measure, but many employers use the scale as a realistic comparison of disruption.
So, you need to formulate a policy in order to tackle absenteeism effectively. The most effective absence management policies are based on the following principles:
* A balance of concern for cost and concern for people
* Keeping people informed
* Quality Information
Whatever your absence management policy, there are some actions you can take to help you achieve better results in this area:
Act Early: If you notice increase in absence or changes in the pattern of absences, investigate and take action before it becomes a major problem. You don’t want it to become so overlooked that it is seen by some as an acquired right to extra leave.
Seek Advice Early: Some issues may involve medical, psychological, legal and contractual situations, so try to get specialist advice before making any decisions on how to approach it. Avoid impulsive decisions and actions, and get HR or your people development department involved. Talk about chances and opportunities for transitional roles for the person who is the subject of your absence enquiries.
Be Methodical: Collect data consistently and carefully. Keep good records, see that everyone has a return-to-work interview and communicate fully and completely with people involved. This way fairness and relevance never becomes an issue of contention.
Be aware that some people may take absence because they have outgrown their role and are ‘rebelling’ against the systems or processes you are running. Boredom can be just as stressful as overwork, so be aware of the rationale people use to justify their being away from work.
If it has become a real problem, discuss other opportunities the person may have within or without your department. You don’t want to pass the problem onto someone else within your organisation, but you cannot afford to carry passengers, so let the person know that you need their help in dealing with the issue as well.
That way, you are offering them the chance to deal with their absence issues in an adult and professional way. Help the person to realise the impact their absence is having on results and their team mates. Employ a culture of care within the department, and encourage people to bring their problems to you before they become the foundation of a culture of absence.
(Image by Avital Pinnick)
Absenteeism is a real bugbear in business today.UK workers have an average 10 days unscheduled absence from their jobs each year, around twice that of their counterparts in the US (5.5 days) and Asia-Pacific (4.5 days), but on a par with Western Europe (9.7 days). Sickness accounts for around 80% of absence, which also covers jury service and compassionate leave.
With the average UK salary around £25,000, absenteeism is costing British business approximately £32 billion each year, far more than previous studies have suggested. This figure is also likely to be conservative, as it reflects direct cost of absence and does not take into account potential replacement costs and lost productivity.
Richard Phelps, HR consulting partner at PwC, said:
“While sometimes absence from work is unavoidable, once people see colleagues frequently taking unscheduled leave, absence becomes less of a dilemma and more of a right. Breaking the cycle can be hard. Retailers take a robust approach, with pay docked almost immediately. With retail resignation rates substantially higher than other sectors, some could argue this is hindering morale. But with a largely unskilled, often temporary staff base, boosting engagement is extremely difficult.”
And as I see it, that’s the key…engagement. I always ask managers to look at the root causes of any unauthorised absenteeism, and very often it is caused by people not being challenged enough or having the chance to make a real difference in their jobs.
Reducing employee absenteeism requires sustained effort and the first and the foremost step in this direction is to provide coaching to the team leaders/managers to see how the job can be manufactured to make it enjoyable, challenging and using the specific skills that will stretch the employee to show how they can contribute.
Managers should also be provided with training to improve their interpersonal skills. They should also be reminded that the power they have has to be used to make the organisation a better place to work, not to boss around and put people off. This will not only help you in addressing employee absenteeism, but also in tackling issues like high employee turnover ratios, and low morale in the workplace.
Having a clear leave policy is essential if you don’t want your employees to abuse their privileges. It is important that you explain all the policies to your employees when you recruit them so that there is no scope for miscommunication. This helps especially in case of large organizations where it is virtually impossible to keep an eye on every employee.
Having an effective communication system helps in maintaining transparency and keeps rumor mongers at bay. It dispels negativity and makes employees feel that they are being recognised as a part of the organisation. Trusting your employees by giving them more responsibilities instills a sense of confidence in them and creates a good atmosphere in the workplace.
So think how the job itself is motivating the employee. Ensure you give opportunities for growth and expansion, make sure the work is invigorating and interesting, and you will have more reasons for people to contribute by being part of the solution rather than adding to the problem.
Employees who take more days off than their peers can cause real problems for you. Morale, productivity and profits can be affected, and can irritate you more than than anything else, as you have to make swift arrangements to cover for the absent person, or simply lose the value of their contribution for the time they are off.
What can you do to deal with this ever-increasing problem?
Ensure team members rely on each other
They are less likely to take time off if they know their team mates will be affected by their actions. So, use work teams to get employees involved with each other. Let them work on projects or activities where they rely on each other’s input. Build trust within the team by opening the lines of communication in team meetings.
Look for warning signs
Keeping regular contact with each employee you are responsible for may nip potential problems in the bud. If people take time off because they are bored or don’t find the job challenging, you will pick this up in your regular 1-2-1 chats with them.
Watch for patterns
If the employee regularly takes time off that coincides with major events or happens to be a certain day of the week, keeping tabs on this may highlight a particular problem.
Maintain an evidence record
If you’re suspicious about a person’s absentee record, you need to keep evidence in writing, so you can manage the situation properly, if it comes down to it.
On their return, review the situation
The employee needs to know that you take it seriously, so a quick meeting on their return can un-earth specific problems they may be encountering.
Support legitimate personal problems
All sorts of problems may cause a person to take time off, and if family problems, low self-esteem, genuine illness or lack of motivation at work are seen as root causes, you need to approach these situation empathetically. Could the company offer help by way of training, extra holidays to deal with crises, counselling or something similar?
Make firm decisions if necessary
With a written record of the situation,you have strong grounds to approach the person with evidence and the need for explanations. Whatever the cause is, take firm action to deal with the problem. The longer it goes on, the more frustrated you will become with them, and that is not good for your employee relationships.
If counselling is required, arrange it. If discipline is needed, take it swiftly. If a warning or stronger is warranted, notify them in writing, and have the m sign the documents. The employee needs to know where they stand, and you need to set the standard for the team you lead.
Here are some tips in setting standards with a team of people:
Reward good performance that can only be attained by excellent attendance
Consider flexible working hours, child-care facilities and fitness programmes
Have policies to deal with legitimate employee absence. Keep in touch with absent colleagues by phone to check their illness
Look closely at the specific reasons why staff choose to be absent. If it’s regular, it may have more to do with the type of work that they are doing than any outside influence.
Dealing with absenteeism is a frustrating and sometimes annoying aspect of your job, but by analysing and recording the reasons, you give yourself a good chance of dealing with it it effectively.