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How to stop a sickie culture from taking root

With Australia Day falling on Thursday this year, an opportunistic employee might be tempted to ‘chuck a sickie’ on Friday to stretch the public holiday into a four-day weekend. While this course of action might be gratifying for the individual, it can compromise the employer’s bottom line – especially if a sickie culture develops and takes root in the organisation. In fact, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and industry (ACCI) estimated businesses nationwide lost approximately $62 million to post-Australia Day sickies in 2016.   

“When employee absences are excessive, this can significantly compromise an organisation’ productivity levels as well as staff morale and customer relations,” Andrew Morris, The NSW, Queensland and New Zealand Director with employment service Robert Half told Dynamic Business.

“Ultimately, if a company doesn’t have the staff necessary to complete pressing projects or meet deadlines, it’s bottom line will take a hit.

Robert Half has outlined a number of steps employers can take to deter employees from taking illegitimate sick leave:

1. Provide flexibility

Offering flexi-time – an arrangement where staff work overtime hours and are credited with the equivalent time off work – is an effective means of retaining top talent, boosting morale and keeping staff passionate about their work. It can also work to deters staff from chucking a sickie in the event they must attend to a personal duty during a typical 9-to-5 workday.

“It’s no longer the case that every employee needs to be in the office to be productive,” Morris told Dynamic Business. “Advances in technology have enabled employees to share files, communicate with colleagues and collaborate on projects, without actually having to be in the office.”

“Consequently, some business leaders are actively encouraging their employees to take advantage of flexible work arrangements such as flexi-time.

“If an employee is empowered to work remotely from home, they save time on commute, meaning they may be inclined to start work earlier and finish later. Conscious of the need to prove they can work effectively from home – and justify the arrangement – many employees work harder than ever to deliver results. A flexible workplace also helps employees relish their role and this can mean valuable increases in productivity and performance.”

2. Track attendance

By keeping a record of sick leave absences in their workforce, employers can watch for trends, such as a spike in absences during summer months and the holiday season. If the employer notices an employee has taken an excessive amount of sick leave without good reason – or there is a pattern to their sick leave absences –  they can raise the issue with that employee and motivate them to change their behaviour before it escalates.

3. Set clear leave policies

Employers should ensure they have a clear process for managing sick leave that has been communicated to all employees. For instances, making it mandatory for employees (or their carers) to call in sick by phone, rather than by email or text message, will enable the employer, through a manager or HR personnel, to inquire after a sick employee’s wellbeing. This information will enable the employer to determine whether a worker requires assistance to get back to work, or whether it’s possible for them to work reduced hours or to log in form home that day.

“A phone call also to avoid miscommunication between the employee and their employer as text or emails can quite easily be misconstrued,” Morris noted.

4. Support healthy lifestyles

Healthy and happy employees are also a great return on investment. A Comcare analysis found that employee health programs decrease sick leave absenteeism by 25.3 percent, and save $5.81 for every dollar invested in employee health and wellbeing. Employers can encourage healthy employees by supplying them with healthy snacks or organising outdoor lunchtime activities such as soccer or ultimate frisbee. By the same token, presenteeism – which is employees coming to work when they’re obviously unwell and might spread germs to others – should be discouraged.

5. Know your rights

Employers are entitled to take sanctions against employees who abuse their sick leave privileges. The current Fair Work guidelines allow employers to ask employees to give evidence for their absence, typically a medical certificate – even if they have only been absent one day. Employers should include this rule in their leave policy as well as registered employee agreements, so that staff are clear on expectations around attendance when they accept an offer of employment.

6. Promote the legitimate use of accrued annual leave

Employees who are overworked and don’t take their accrued annual leave can indirectly impact the business in a negative way potentially affecting financial results, and possibly colleagues morale.

Companies should create an environment that encourages employees to take their accrued holiday leave,” Morris said. “This will help improve the mood and overall productivity while also helping businesses to better manage their workforce. Companies can avoid a glut on last-minute holiday requests by making it easy to apply for leave and responding to requests in a positive way.”

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