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Win the fight against unplanned staff absence

There is an overwhelming body of research linking unproductive employees to sick leave. Put simply: the more someone wastes time at work, the more likely they are to take sick leave.

Many managers we speak to seem to notice the absenteeism more when a large portion of their staff suddenly falls ill the day after a public holiday, such as Australia Day.

Estimates put the annual figure lost due to absenteeism and productivity at a staggering $5.2 billion.

The costs incurred by businesses are often associated with the following things:

  • Wages paid to employees who are absent;
  • The cost of replacing these workers; whether it be lost productivity from another employee taking on two roles, paying overtime to another employee, or the costs of employing a temp;
  • Poor quality of production due to work not being done or being done poorly by those filling in;
  • The disruption caused by the employee not coming to work (finding a replacement, filling out sick forms, instructing temps etc.).

In our experience, this is where things become challenging for small businesses as there may be a number of reasons why an employee is absent from work. These include:

  • Stress (from heavy workload or from outside of work commitments);
  • Issues at home such as child care or other family care;
  • Illness or injury;
  • An employee being disengaged in their role;
  • Bullying or harassment in the workplace;
  • Employee looking for a new job.

While the reason for an employee’s absence can sometimes seem quite obvious, there is often little proof to act on, making it difficult to performance manage or have discussions based on this absenteeism without the risk of an employee claiming it as unfair treatment.

With this in mind, our number one advice for clients is to, “Work with what you know and manage what you see”. Don’t make assumptions. Don’t act on hearsay, and make sure you are able to back up your claims with evidence or examples.

More importantly, your end goal should always be to have your employee performing well in their role. For this reason, your main priority will not be to try and catch an employee out and scold them, but rather seek reason for their absence and work cooperatively with them to organise change and improvement.

Here are 6 steps which will bring you one step closer to reducing absenteeism in your business:

Performance Management: Make sure you openly address the problem of absenteeism with the employee. If the problem is a lack of motivation in their role, have performance discussions with them. Ask them how they can be more engaged in their role. Ask them what they need from you to perform. Make clear to them your expectations and how their role contributes to business outcomes.

Flexible working arrangements: Perhaps the employee is absent because they cannot find appropriate childcare, or have a family member they are caring for. If it is appropriate in your business, offer them alternative hours, which may better work around their personal lives. Perhaps it is easier for them to work across the weekend or, on occasion, work from home. If 9-5, Monday-Friday are the only hours that allow this role to be productive, then set these expectations from the get-go. Make it clear during the recruitment process that these hours are essential in this position.

More importantly, promote empathy. If an employee has to attend a child’s school function or family event, you don’t want them to call the morning of the event with a “stomach bug” because they didn’t feel they could approach you. Make sure your workplace culture is one that invites them to discuss these days with you so that you can plan ahead, eliminating unnecessary costs.

Promote a healthy lifestyle: If an employee is genuinely sick, especially around flu-season, it is good to know that you are doing all you can in the workplace to reduce these costs. Having on-site exercise equipment or the provision of other health services may be an option. It may be as simple as having plenty of fresh fruit available to your staff to boost the vitamin intake around the office.

Act on workplace disputes or incidents as soon as they occur: If a major workplace incident arises and it is left unresolved, not only can there be legal implications, but it may also cause a stressful and unwelcoming work environment for other employees.

Rewarding attendance is not always the right answer: There are many problems that can come with using this as a quick fix to reduce absenteeism. It can be hard to measure the effectiveness, as the savings of improved attendance that it delivers will have to outweigh the expenses of the reward and administering of the reward. It may encourage those who are genuinely ill to come into work, endangering the health of other workers. It can also cover up the real reason they were absent in the first place, deeming it a Band-Aid solution as the problem will probably arise again in the future.

Implement firm policies and procedures: Create a policy which outlines what you expect from employees when they are absent. It may include sick leave processes, e.g. an employee must provide a doctor’s certificate, they must call instead of texting or email, and state who they must speak to, etc. Perhaps you will have a policy that outlines minimum attendance requirements.

Most importantly, we recommend that you make sure employees are made aware of and have read the relevant policies and that these policies adhere to workplace legislation or have been reviewed by a HR expert.

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Paula Maidens

Paula Maidens

Paula Maidens is Managing Director of <a href="http://www.recruitmentcoach.com.au/">Recruitment Coach,</a> a unique HR coaching and consulting firm for small-medium businesses.

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