Monitoring Absence At Work Does Not Increase It

AbsenceThere has been a lot of coverage recently about getting sick people back to work. It is a big issue for most businesses – and the Government takes the loss of productivity caused by absence, particularly long-term absence, very seriously. Around 960,000 workers in Britain were on sick leave for more than a month each year between October 2010 and September 2013. To address this issue The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) are launching a scheme where workers will be referred for health assessments if they are sick for more than four weeks in an effort to address the issue. It is planned that the assessments will be carried out by occupational specialists who will draw up a plan and timetable to get the patient back to work quickly. The DWP believes the scheme will save employers £70 million a year and cut the time people spend off work by 20% to 40%.

While this is good news for employers – I know from many years of discussing HR and workforce management with a wide variety of businesses that many employers really don’t know the extent of sickness absence in their organisation. Of course if it is a long term absence someone is usually missed, but believe it or not, occasionally that’s not the case and employees  are paid long after they have left the company or even this earth!  Short term, unscheduled absence is, however, frequently missed or not captured and costs employers dear in lost productivity, overtime payments and employee engagement.

When I speak to employers about tracking their absence it always surprises me that they often think real-time capture of attendance raises unscheduled absence rates.  But if they think about it – what it actually reveals is that they were unaware how bad it was in the first place!

If you don’t know to what extent absence is affecting your business and managers aren’t able to spot absence trends amongst their employees, it makes it almost impossible for them to take steps to reduce it – after all you can’t manage what you don’t measure. So next time you notice one of your employees is not at their post – ask yourself this – if you knew the true cost of employee absence to your organisation – what would you do differently?

Here’s the popular list of the Top 10 Tips to Reduce Absence


Defining Stress in the Workplace

imagesCAUWCGLJBritain has the highest rate of people with mental health issues in the developed world claiming disability or out of work benefits a recent report has revealed. Georgia Graham, writing for the Daily Telegraph claims that British workers are among the most stressed in the world and employees unable to work because of mental health issues are costing the UK economy over £70 billion a year. The main cause of work-related mental health issues, according to the report, was unemployment and the inability to find work. This seems slightly at odds with the commonly held belief that overwork and the long hours culture in the UK is the main cause of stress and stress–related absence.

Burn-out of workers who are swamped by their workload is, of course, a problem as pointed out in the article by the BBC earlier this week about Welsh Ambulance Services. The article highlights the fact that almost three times as many staff are being signed off for stress as for a common cold or flu due to what employees feel is an excessive workload. However, I believe that employers should also be aware of the danger of under-employment of staff in the workplace which can also raise stress levels. Employees who feel undervalued and who are underemployed often fear the loss of their jobs and can feel stressed and anxious over a long period of time – increasing the risk of mental health problems.

Managers who are responsible for managing the workload of their team need to ensure they are able to spread workloads equitably and fairly and ensure employees are not compromising their mental health. Deploying the right people, with the right skills to cover the workload is vital. Whether it is an ambulance team trying to save lives and meet their targets, a retailer who needs to make sure there’s enough coverage to meet the demands of customers at any given time, or a manufacturer or distribution organisation that needs to ensure skilled workers are available to ensure production and delivery targets are met; having the right tools to plan and deploy staff to business demands and track and monitor, attendance, productivity and compliance will help managers support their staff and meet those organisational objectives.

Download the Forgotten Workforce Report

Download CIPD Absence Report 2013

UK Workers Take Around 365 Days Off Over Their Working Life

absenceJust last week I was blogging about absence and its back in the headlines again! The National Sickness Report recently surveyed 2,000 full-time workers to look at their current health and gauge their attitudes towards sickness. Their published findings show we spend almost a year-and-a-half of our working lives off work as there are on average 252 days in a working year.

One of the things that always strikes  me is that although sickness is an unavoidable part of working life, a  substantial number of these days are likely to be ‘sickies’ – where an employee calls in sick without actually being sick. The cost of this kind of absence can be huge and can be reduced by organisations if they improve their employee engagement and absence management.

In my experience, once an organisation introduces a clear and equitable absence policy, is able to track and monitor absence accurately and establishes processes like back to work interviews, the cost of unscheduled absence can be reduced by up to 40%. This reduction can equate to a saving of 2-3 days absence per employee per year. It gets even better if flexible working policies can be introduced.

Reducing unscheduled absence has other benefits too. It reduces the stress on colleagues who have to ‘take up the slack’ from their absent co-workers, improving engagement and can reduce the numbers of agency staff brought in to cover absence, which can affect productivity as well as drive up costs.

The report also found that stress and depression are now the most common causes of long-term absence in the workplace and require an average recovery time of 81 days; another reason to think about flexible working and to make sure that absence trends can be monitored. If an individual’s incidence of sickness absence rises unexpectedly, it could be a sign that they are struggling at work or home and a manager can then intervene and try and establish what is going on and take the appropriate action before an employee becomes too ill to work.

Absence will never be totally avoidable, people will genuinely get ill but an organisation who measures and monitors absence and has some flexibility in working patterns will be in a stronger position to sort out the genuinely ill from the employees who take a ‘sickie’ for non-genuine reasons.

Further reading:


Is The UK A Sick Nation?

Out sick todayWow there has been a lot of coverage about the cost of absence to employers and the UK economy in the press recently. According to research carried about by PricewaterhouseCooper (PwC) UK workers take more than FOUR times as many days off work sick as those in other countries, there must surely be something wrong?

While the survey shows that UK employees were taking fewer unscheduled absence days compared with two years ago (9.8 days in 2013 compared with 10.1 days in 2011), the number of these days taken off due to illness rose (9.1 days in 2013, up from 8.7 days in 2011). Therefore, the associated cost of staff sickness had also risen with sick days now accounting for £28.8 billion of the UK’s overall £31.1 billion absence bill. That’s a lot of money spent on employee sickness absence every year.

PwC’s findings have been challenged by the CBI/Pfizer Fit for Purpose survey. It argued that the average absence rate was 5.3 days in 2012, down from 6.5 days in 2010, which actually saved businesses £3 billion, although overall absence is still costing the UK economy £14 billion.

I read that, shockingly, almost £1.8 billion was lost from an estimated one-in-eight sick days taken for non-genuine reasons. Actually, in my experience, it is usually higher than this and several companies we work with achieve reductions in unscheduled absence by as much as 40%.

So, what sort of things can employers do to help reduce overall absence?

One way is by introducing flexible working practices and supporting by employee self-service. Technology that helps managers take into consideration employee preferences like an automated scheduling tool can make a real difference.

Good management of absenteeism is also important. Industrial psychologists suggest that any organisations with a sizable workforce should consider the 20:60:20 rule.  This is where the workforce comprises 20% superstars, 60% good solid workers and 20% that need that little extra attention. If employers neglect managing the 20% that need that little extra attention, it has a detrimental effect on the engagement in the other 80% of the workforce. Employees do feel resentful if management is lacking and the productivity of even the best performers can be adversely affected.

Here’s 10 Top Tips that can help any organisation to reduce absence:

1. Capture absence and highlight to managers and supervisors. Capture absence in real-time and advise managers immediately so that they can deal with it appropriately. The old adage that you can’t measure what you don’t measure is absolutely true in the case of absence management.

2. Have a clear absence policy. If you don’t have one already, an absence policy to balance employee and employer needs is the first step to addressing any potential problems. And the communication of this policy to all employees makes clear what is acceptable and expected of them.

3. Return to work interviews. These can be particularly effective in quickly understanding the reasons for absence. Speed of interview is important so consider an automated prompt to highlight exactly when an employee has returned.

4. Offer flexible scheduling. Allowing employees to select and swap shifts at short notice has been proven to reduce absenteeism.

5. Consider unpaid leave or options to buy more holiday time. Planned absence is always easier for a business to manage than unscheduled absence. Offer staff the opportunity to book unpaid leave up to a maximum number of days or buy additional holidays at the start of the year.

6. Make controlling absence a business priority. There’s no excuse not to be in control of absence. Business tools are available to control and monitor absence levels and trends – you can even set the parameters to alert you to all unscheduled absence the moment it happens.

7. Enforce the absence policy. Any absence policy needs to be monitored and enforced consistently and fairly throughout the organisation to curb unscheduled absence and unauthorised sick days – more than half of employed adults believe that their work performance is negatively impacted when attendance policies are not fairly enforced.

8. Provide incentives for excellent attendance. In large organisations, time and attendance systems are an invaluable tool for tracking and reporting on attendance levels. Many organisations effectively use perfect attendance bonuses as an incentive to reduce absence levels.

9. Be realistic. Sometimes people really do need to take some time out that simply cannot be planned. Allow staff to take a maximum number of days each year as “Duvet Days” at short notice. This will likely improve morale and get better results out of your employees in the long term.

10. Make absence management part of your long-term business plan. Managing absence is critical for organisations of all type and sizes. Organisations can benefit from a well-designed, consistently monitored absence policy.



‘Tis The Season To Be Jolly…Not!

christmas hangover..At this time of the year what with norovirus, ‘flu and other bugs around, together with post Christmas party hangovers and surreptitious shopping days being taken – unscheduled absence is a real problem for organisations across the UK. So today I thought I would revisit the Government’s independent review of sickness absence and see whether the recommendations have been implemented and what employers are doing to help manage this kind of absence.

According to the Department of Health, employers are spending around £9 billion in sick pay and related costs and over 140 million working days a year are lost to sickness absence.

The Government’s review Health at work – an independent review of sickness absence’ which was commissioned in November 2011 looked at how employers and the State could share the costs of sickness absence and made a number of recommendations aimed at improving the existing system. The review claimed that the reformed system of sickness absence management it advocated would save employers £400 million per year, the State £300 million a year and boost economic output by up to £1.4 billion.

In April 2010 the Government  decided the old ‘sick note’ was not ‘fit’ for purpose and replaced it with the ‘fit note’. The idea being to improve rates of return to work by including a ‘may be fit’category – where doctors had the choice of advising patients that they were fit for a ‘phased’ return to work if their employer could work with them. There’s been a very mixed response to the ‘fit note’ (which I covered in my blog ‘Are Fit Notes Sick?’)– particularly from Doctors who understandably don’t have the time, or the knowledge of people’s job, workplace etc to be able to give any guidance and so err on the side of caution or simply leave it to the employee to make the judgement call as to whether they are fit for work.

The review suggested that, for longer term sickness absence, an Independent Assessment Service should be set up. The service would be provided by approved health professionals, subject to quality controls and could be accessed if a person reached a certain time-threshold of absence by either a doctor or the employer. I can see it would have to be a system that would be accepted as fair and used consistently or there would be some pretty harsh criticism.

 Other incentives were also recommended including favourable tax implications and new insurance products aimed at encouraging attendance and reducing the cost of absence.

It all seems too hard to me, and we are still waiting to see what the Government’s response to the review has been, but in the meantime I will refer you to my previous blog which talks about the 10 Top Tips to Reduce Absence and remind everybody that you can’t manage something that is not measured.

Happy Christmas Everyone!