Keeping on top of staff sickness absences
As the winter season approaches, the level of staff absences often increases with colds and flu as generally the most commonly cited illness at work.
Presenteeism vs Absenteeism
One dilemma employees face is whether those who have seasonal illnesses should be seen to ‘power through’ if at all possible or whether they should stay away from the office so as to prevent others from also becoming ill. This is the dilemma of presenteeism vs absenteeism. ERS Research and Consultancy shows that the cost to UK businesses of absenteeism is circa 29bn annually. There could be many reasons for the large costs associated with absenteeism including paying other staff overtime, hiring extra staff, a decrease in work productivity and things getting overlooked.
Furthermore, having an employee off sick means extra work for everyone else at quite often a busy time of year which can in turn lead to further absences.
However, employees who take the option of coming into work when they are unwell not only are likely to pass the illness on to others but are also more likely to develop stress related illnesses themselves and slow down the process of recovery. For cases of long term sickness rather than a ‘Christmas bug’, the slowing down of the recovery process is the key problem in returning to work too quickly.
Dealing with sickness absence
Managers should be given training on how best to tackle this conflict and whilst a uniform approach may not be possible, what is possible is putting in place methods to limit the impact of employees being unwell and where possible planning ahead for how it will be dealt with. In other words, have an action plan.
Given the enormous costs to a business involved in employees being off sick, employers also need to consider what steps can be taken to minimise absenteeism and prevent any period of absence from being longstanding. One consideration is whether the business has a flexible working policy and whether it is effective. For example, is it possible for employees to work at home so as to prevent illness spreading? Is it possible for an employee to alter their hours of work for example to attend a medical appointment? Are employees aware how best they can utilise flexible working? Businesses should also consider how effective their return to work provisions are, particularly in cases of long term absence. Are there regular meetings with a returning employee to assess progress? Are the provisions sufficiently adaptable to individual employees? Do they consider phased returns to work where appropriate? Are the appropriate staff trained in dealing with phased returns to work?
The best way employers can start tackling this issue is to track absences in their businesses. Not only should the type of illness and frequency of absences be considered but also what extra costs are usually incurred as a result of this sick leave. Businesses should consider how accurate the information is they are currently collecting, if they are collecting any, and whether their systems are sophisticated enough to adequately assess this data.
Absences should be tracked , identified and addressed early on. Consideration can then be given as to how employers may be able to better manage or avoid these absences. Always consider whether there is an element of the workplace which is causing or making the illness worse. For example, is there persistent complaints of back aches, neck aches, or stress?
Although tracking sickness absence is essential, an efficient business will track all absences, be it for training, time off for dependents, holiday or otherwise and any risks identified and action taken.
Depending on the results of the tracking, wellbeing programmes, training programmes and policy reviews can all be considered as options for targeting absences.
For further information on any of the issues raised in this article, please contact Sarah Wimsett or another member of the Employment Team.