Absence at Work. How Does it Affect YOUR Organisation? And, Can You Really Do Anything About It?

Absence at Work

How absence at work can affect your business in ways you may not have realised. And - what to do about it.

Your jargon-free guide to absence, its equally toxic bedfellow presenteeism, and why it really matters.  

As a long-established HR transformation consultancy, we’ve seen first-hand the harm that poorly managed absence can do.

In many ways, it’s such a difficult, personal issue. A minefield, even. Yet, it can have seriously damaging consequences that can go under the radar.

Human Resources Directors, take note:

At the risk of being the voice of doom, failure to manage, and importantly to measure absence levels will affect the organisation you work for. And, the harm it can do is, like a heavy stone thrown into a pond, likely to ripple out to every area of your business.

So, why should absence, and its partner in crime, presenteeism, be on your agenda?

We’ve put together this blog to offer you some food for thought. In particular, we’ll touch on the importance of systems and data, and how seeing the full picture is essential if you want to predict and reduce absence in the future.

We’d love to hear your thoughts, so do get in touch if you have any comments or questions.

First of all,

What Do We Mean?

Absenteeism: simply defined, this is where staff habitually or frequently fail to turn up for work. Not to be confused, of course, with pre-arranged absences (holidays, or jury duty for example), there may be several root causes: illness, personal problems and mental issues, a lack of motivation or unfortunately, even bullying or harassment.

It goes without saying that none of the above are even remotely “good”.

In our direct, upfront way we’re asking you to consider your company’s culture – but we’ll touch on this in more detail in a future blog.

Absence from Work – The Business

A workforce that’s sick or struggling equals an unhealthy or unproductive organisation. Customer service will suffer, and less gets done. Standards drop. You may need replacement staff, adding an extra financial burden to your overstretched enterprise.

Absence from Work – The Team

Something has to give. Work has to go on.  

It’s hardly genius-level analysis to conclude that when an empoyee is obliged to carry out two people’s jobs instead of just his or her own, even including some un-family friendly overtime, resentment, stress and burnout will follow.

Absence from work – the employee

Loss of income, worry, pressure, burnout, guilt – these are all emotions highly likely to be experienced by your member of staff. And, their family. Add into the mix the ginormous backlog of work to tackle when they DO return to the workplace, and things aren’t looking great .

And What About Presenteeism?

Ah yes, still being “present” in the office at 6.30pm at night. Or, still on Zoom at 7pm. Welcome to the long hours culture. More to the point, the longer and longer hours culture as employees strive to prove their worth, stave off redundancy or termination, and respond to pressures from the boss.

Often seen as a direct result of the Covid-19 pandemic, Zoom, the connectivity tool of choice, is quite simply…constantly there. Despite the fact that really deep, intensive work can only happen within a 4–5-hour window, the 12-hour day via video link is a real thing.

In our experience, the extended workday leads to reduced output, lower productivity and fast burn out. We’re talking less here, not more. Compromises to the body, mind and soul.

And, a living, breathing disaster for your organisation.

In our view, life should not be like this.

So, Where Are We?

We may well be looking at a work-life balance that’s out of kilter, upside down and turned inside out.

The World Health Organisation, those people who know a thing or two, estimates that poor mental health is ultra-costly. In fact, they think that an eye-watering US$1 trillion is lost in productivity on an annual basis.

The CIPD has observed in its report published last year,“Health and Wellbeing at Work” that 70% of UK leaders have observed presenteeism, with homeworkers in particular being a part of the problem. These high-level statistics are just a drop in the ocean of the overwhelming evidence out there regarding health and wellbeing in the workplace.

We know this much is true:

1.    If you are not on top of thesituation, you will start to lose talent.

2.    A healthier, happier, motivated workforce is the key to a financially healthy company.

Where to Start

In a nutshell, two things:

1.    Accurate, actionable absence data could, in a matter of seconds, quite literally tell you the strength and vigour of your business. Evidence is your starting point.

In other words, system-produced facts and figures, tailored precisely to the needs of your business, could be telling you who is absent, whether it’s more or less prevalent in any specific department, how long the absence has lasted, the reasons for the absence – and so on. You can even extract data relating to location, age, job roles and so on.

Why is absence happening? How can you identify its source, or sources? A robust HR system that captures real-time data will simply give you really useful information and in our view, should be on your HR Wish List.

Don’t be concerned. Here at Five Rivers,FiveRivers we have the expertise to help your department adopt the rightsystems, and how to make the most of them every single day.

Is information power? A force for good? Well, yes – it is. And, we’re back to culture again. You may be surprised, or even shocked at what you uncover.

Understanding the nuances of employees’ absences will open up an obvious way forward:

2.    Clear absence policies to manage everything pro-actively. For example, you may wish to enable access to external employee assistance programmes, as well as internal support where necessary.

Absence reporting, whom to contact and when, how to keep in touch, sick pay policies, doctors’ notes, (tactful) return-to-work interviews – all essential parts of a strong, highly functioning absence strategy.

An enormous topic, and one we can’t cover in any detail here:

3.    Leadership skills, coaching and senior management training.  There’s no one size fits all solution, here, but it’s fair to say that great leaders motivate and inspire their teams. Poor leaders, not so much.

Customised programmes for your management staff could lead to a series of healthier behaviours, stronger empathy, better listening skills, and create a workforce so much better aligned to the organisation’s goals and objectives.

The 21st century workplace is constantly changing.We know that good people are hard to find. In fact, incredibly hard to find –and keep.

A cliché perhaps, but your people really are your greatest asset. Absence and sickness data is just a part of the picture. But an important one.

Don’t be THAT HR Director. Now is the time to make the most of your talent. Before another company steals it from under your nose.

Thank you!
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