Employee absence is a major problem for businesses of every size.
Of course, genuine illness is unavoidable. But according to a new report from PwC, as many as one in three employees takes time off work under false pretences, often because they are bored or disillusioned.
This is a huge issue, and not just because of the lost days. It also points to a general dissatisfaction amongst employees – and this is likely to hit productivity.
Absenteeism can be expensive, and it is important that it is minimised. But in order to efficiently reduce the number of days you lose, you need to take a well-rounded view of employee wellbeing.
You cannot hope to reduce employee absence unless you first understand its causes. It is important to realise that the potential reasons for employee absence are numerous and wide ranging, and that different factors require different responses.
Begin by assessing your current position. Is absenteeism at a reasonable level? If so, consider ways to maintain this. Is it too high? If so, try to understand and address the causes – while remembering that you will never eliminate absence altogether.
According to the PwC report, boredom and a lack of interest in work are amongst the most common causes of absenteeism. You can combat this by engaging properly with your staff.
Talk to employees and find out how they would like to be spending their time. Would they like more or less responsibility? If they do not feel like management is taking any interest in their day-to-day work, employees are unlikely to feel motivated or connected to the organisation – and absenteeism will increase. But if you can demonstrate that you are listening to your employees, and trying to create flexible and interesting working patterns, you can help to boost both attendance and morale.
Stress is a major problem, affecting employees in every industry. It must be taken seriously – and it should be treated like the business risk that it is.
Include stress in your regular risk assessments. Consider factors like staffing levels and workload, and try to develop ways that their impact can be mitigated. As with any other risk assessment process, the ideal solution should be to eliminate the risk altogether. But, where this is impossible, you should ensure that processes are in place to minimise that risk.
A well considered, properly codified absence policy is a vital element of any absence management strategy. It is important that you decide precisely what is considered an acceptable reason for absence – and that those decisions are explained to employees.
Your absence policy should reflect your firm’s specific situation, but there are a few elements that will feature in most policies. These include details of notification procedures for time off, arrangements for family emergencies, and consequences for employees who do not abide by the policy.
At every stage you should remember that your absence policy must conform with, and should outline, your statutory responsibilities, and the rights that your employees can expect.
The effective use of employee benefits can be a useful way of reducing absence. An increasing number of firms are recognising the importance of healthcare, and are using health-related benefits to improve employee wellbeing and reduce absenteeism.
A private health insurance policy is perhaps the most obvious health-related employee benefit – but it is not the only means by which you can boost wellbeing. You may also, for example, consider implementing an Employee Assistance Programme. These schemes offer one-to-one support for employees who are suffering with things like stress, and can help to boost morale while addressing issues that may result in absence.
Back-to-work interviews are a crucial tool in the fight against absenteeism. At a very basic level, an employee is less likely to pull a sicky if they know they will have to explain it later. But the importance of back-to-work interviews runs much deeper than this.
These interviews, if properly conducted and filed, can help you understand the factors that are affecting employee absence – and then take action to minimise them. It is important that you develop some standard questions in order to ensure that you can draw useful conclusions over a period of time.
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