By Simon Macpherson Friday, 16 November 2012

Ten top tips: Dealing with persistent absenteeism

Are you signing off too many sickies? Are you regularly left short-staffed? Here's why you should keep track of absent staff - and quick.

‘Absence makes the heart grow fonder’ - well not in the business environment it doesn’t. In today’s stretched workplace and challenging economic environment, absence is still a major problem. The average employee clocks up around 6.8 days of absence a year, according to the latest figures from the CIPD. It’s not just about pulling ‘sickies’ - it’s lateness, long breaks and skipping off early. Although only a small number of people typically do it, it’s left to the diligent majority to pick up the pieces. There are ways to capture it – but it has to be addressed in a fair and consistent manner.

1. Measure it
Record absence and regularly highlight it to managers and supervisors. The quicker you alert your managers, the quicker they can deal with it appropriately. The old adage that you can’t manage what you can’t measure is absolutely true in the case of absence management.

2. Return to work interviews
Return to work interviews are 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.

3. Offer flexibility
Allowing employees more control over their schedules and the ability to select and swap shifts at short notice is guaranteed to reduce absenteeism.

4. Give options
Consider offering unpaid leave or options to buy more holiday time. Planned absence is always easier for a business to manage than unscheduled absence. Give staff the opportunity to book off a number of days unpaid or give them the chance to buy additional holidays at the start of the year.

5. Prioritise
Make controlling absence a business priority. There’s no excuse not to keep on top of it. Business tools are available to control and monitor absence levels and trends in real-time - you can even set the parameters to alert you to all unscheduled absence the moment it happens.

6. 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. Less than half of organisations monitor the cost of absence, and it can be a costly mistake. At Kronos Works 2012, the global workforce management conference which Kronos held this week, one representative from a leading UK grocery retailer admitted that when he started measuring attendance, the retailer immediately discovered 50 ghost employees – people still being paid a salary long after they left the organisation. Shocked? Are you 100% sure it’s not happening in your workplace?

7. Stick to it
Rigidly enforce the absence policy. It needs to be monitored and enforced quickly, consistently and fairly 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. Offer incentives
In large organisations, time and attendance systems are an invaluable tool for tracking and reporting on attendance levels. For those that are staying on the right side, reward them. Many organisations offer 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 improve morale and you will get more out of your employees in the long term.

10. Strategy
Make absence management part of your long-term business plan. High productivity is critical for organisations of all types and sizes. In most large companies a degree of absence goes unnoticed, or, at the very least managers are too busy to address the problem. But a well-designed, consistently monitored absence policy could save you thousands – or even millions – of pounds in the long term.

- Simon Macpherson is Senior Director of Operations at Kronos EMEA. He was speaking at KronosWorks12. He also blogs about absence management here.

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