Employee absenteeism can cause real problems for smaller business – so how can you work with your employees to minimise its impact? Office Kitten HR manager Melanie Astbury gives her views
Workers throwing a sickie or deciding to have a duvet day are common problems for HR managers to deal with – but what do you do if a worker’s absence becomes a real issue for your business?
Too many managers are scared of confronting the issue of employee absence. However, as long as you deal sensitively and respectfully with the worker in question, you are perfectly entitled to ask for explanations about any absence and to take appropriate action.
1.Monitor trends and periods of absence
Every business will have individual triggers for this, but as a rule of thumb any more than three days should raise eyebrows and require a full explanation.
There is real value in plotting the trends of employee absence through tools like Heatmap. This highlights repeat days of absence over a period and is very useful in identifying, for instance, if someone has had the same day off time after time. If they’re calling in sick every Friday, there’s a problem there that needs dealing with. Does someone work on a Friday who is causing them a problem? Is it something away from the workplace that’s creating an issue?
We share every worker’s Heatmap with them on a regular basis, so they can never be unaware of how many days off they’ve had.
Additionally, we are introducing the ‘Bradford Factor’ as a means of measuring periods of absence. This well-known system sets a score for each person in the company, with triggers for points accrued leading to verbal warnings, written warnings and ultimately, dismissal.
Each period of absence is counted, together with the number of days absent, to arrive at a running score.
This doesn’t work for every office environment, but has been proven to be very effective in a contact centre.
2. Engage your line managers
Some managers shy away from discussing absences because they don’t like confrontation or asking potentially embarrassing questions. An employee may say that the reason they have been absent is private and they don’t want to talk about it.
However, always remember this person is being paid to work for you and as such they owe you a reasonable explanation whenever they cannot work.
To get to the underlying reason for a problem absence requires the help of your department line managers. After all, they are going to know the worker in question much better than a HR manager can hope to.
So if they are off every other Wednesday, for instance, they’ll know that this person is a big football fan and could be taking the day off to recover from going to the match.
Changes to a person’s domestic circumstances will also be on the radar of a line manager straight away and can help get to the bottom of why repeat absences start to appear. They may have childcare issues or difficulties with a partner.
Talking to the employee’s line manager first will give you vital background information ahead of setting up a meeting with your absentee worker.
3. Allow the employee a chance to explain
Every absence should end with a return to work interview. This is a chance to confirm that the person is fit to resume working and also to discuss whether you need to change any of their duties as a result of their absence.
This may be a rota change, or an offer of flexible hours, it may even involve a move or change of equipment.
We recently had a worker suffering repeated migraines that kept her off work. She mentioned that she was also struggling to hear. After discussing if her working environment was to blame, we discussed it with her GP and swapped her phone headset for a specialist earpiece. She hasn’t had one migraine since.
As a HR manager, you need to listen at all times to pick up on relevant information and navigate your way through potentially tricky situations. You can feel like a doctor and counsellor rolled into one.
However, by listening and understanding the reasons for an absence, you’ll be in the best position to suggest a solution that’s right for your business and the employee.
4. Offer help and be flexible
In today’s workplace, it’s far better to keep an employee than lose them. This is particularly true for smaller businesses, where recruitment can be a long and expensive process. So if someone has a problem that’s causing absences, finding a solution to keep them is best.
Of course, there will be times when this doesn’t work out, but it should always be your aim as a HR manager.
One woman who had used a variety of excuses for taking repeat Fridays off finally revealed that she was having childcare issues due to problems with her ex. Knowing the real reason meant we were able to offer a rota switch, flexible working and to impress on her the need to give us notice when this situation did arise again as we would need to bring a temp in to cover her absences.
5. Use the carrot and stick
If you are striving to get a team to up its attendance levels, why not suggest a pizza party for six months ‘perfect’ attendance? This will cost the business relatively little, but will have a positive incentive. Other businesses like to offer a bonus for full attendance for a year, either financial or through extra holiday allowance, although this would have to be offered across your company if you were considering it.
Consistency is the key when dealing with absentee and attendance issues. Three days being the trigger for one employee to have an interview must be applied across the board.
Alternatively, you may wish to employ the ‘stick’ approach. If one member of a team is dragging the attendance rate down due to repeated absences, encourage the others’ to speak up and voice their feelings.
Also, at a one-to-one meeting, team meeting or employee appraisal, make everyone aware of the cost to the business of an absence. If you have to get a temp in, for instance, or if orders were late as a result. All of this may make the person think twice before taking their next ‘sickie’.
Most employees I’ve encountered are reasonable when you ask them ‘do you believe that the time you have had off is acceptable?’ That’s the first step in finding a solution and getting them back to being a valuable member of your team again.