UK: SME/Columnists - There are cost-free ways to keep skiving to a minimum.

UK: SME/Columnists - There are cost-free ways to keep skiving to a minimum. - People management: the odd days off cost billions of pounds.

by Judith Oliver.
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

People management: the odd days off cost billions of pounds.

Is absenteeism costing your company more than you thought? Employees taking the occasional day off may seem small beer but odd days add up.

On every working day of the year, almost one million people in Britain fail to turn up for work due, most frequently, to uncertificated absence.

A total of 200 million working days are lost each year through absence and the wasted salary bill amounts to £13 billion every year, says Industrial Society and CBI research.

Employees in Britain's companies average eight days' absence every year.

More than 25% of all organisations don't bother to keep absentee statistics and nearly 75% have no idea of how much absence costs them. But, with the direct salary costs of absenteeism for a firm of 25 staff standing at almost £15,000 a year, can anything be done to cut those costs?

Alastair Evans, senior lecturer in human resource management at Thames Valley University and co-author of a new Institute of Personnel and Development publication, From Absence to Attendance, believes SMEs have an advantage over Britain's larger firms, as absenteeism seems to rise in proportion to a firm's size.

Yet, some of the causes are clearly outside the control of employers.

In a survey of 327 UK managers by the Industrial Society, there was a significant discrepancy between what employees say is the reason for their absence and what managers believe to be the true cause. The top five reasons for absence recorded on certification forms are colds or flu, stomach upsets, headaches, back problems and stress. Managers believe the real reasons include colds or flu, stress and personal problems, sickness in the family and childcare problems, boredom/low morale and Monday morning blues.

Other causes can be tackled through the implementation of appropriate policies, says Evans. These follow six themes: involving line management; rewarding good attendance with incentives; formal and informal sanctions such as penalties; work redesign and flexible working; supporting employees with family commitments; and occupational health programmes and promotions.

Most SMEs couldn't spend money on computerised attendance monitoring systems or bonuses, he points out, but some policies are reasonably cost-free.

Employees should have a brief interview with their manager when they return to work. A CBI survey show absence levels are 20% lower where return-to-work interviews occur. Smaller firms must also devise an action plan for instances when absence becomes a problem. This would start with informal interviews, then formal warnings and ultimately dismissal. This requires accurate recording of absence to trigger the action plan when appropriate, Evans says.

Once firms have such policies in place, they can try to create an environment in which employees enjoy their work. Try asking them whether they do.

If not, skiving is sure to escalate.

Judith Oliver is a contributing editor for Management Today.

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