Thursday, 9 February 2017

Sickies vs Presenteeism

We seem to have a pattern in the UK that the first Monday in February is the single day of the year with the highest sickness absence -  and now it’s earmarked as National Sickie Day.
It’s not hard to imagine why. The fresh start to the year in January in over, we’re still paying the bills from Christmas, still getting up and coming home in the dark. Freezing temperatures and widespread ‘flu outbreaks don’t help either.  Maybe it’s easier to phone in sick and snuggle down under the duvet….
So … be ready to tackle the odd bad apple in your workforce who has the urge to skive off work on the first Monday in February – or any Monday.  A proactive approach towards absence will make sure that an absence culture doesn’t take root in your workplace, hitting morale and productivity at a time when most businesses are looking to find ways to boost future growth.  Here’s what to do:
·         Communicate a consistent policy that people phone their direct manager if they need to take time off sick, and if practical don’t accept texts and emails.  
·         If an employee doesn’t even phone in but simply fails to turn up, handle it firmly as a disciplinary matter.
·         If you’re given a reason for absence that doesn’t relate to the person’s own health, let them know clearly that it won’t be counted as sickness absence.  It would be this sort of excuse – all reported in National Sickie Day top 10 bizarre reasons lists for not turning up to work:
o   “I’ve accidentally locked myself in the bathroom and I’m having to wait until someone with a key to the house can come round to let me out.”
o   “I’ve accidentally sent my uniform to the charity shop so need to go and buy it back.”
o   “I thought it was a bank holiday today and I’m 500 miles away.”
o   From a worker in Glasgow “I missed the stop on my train this morning and can’t get off the train now until London.”
The time can either be unpaid, or even deducted from the holiday entitlement (though you should make it clear that holiday normally must be booked in advance). 
·         As an employer you’re perfectly entitled to challenge an employee’s reason for absence.  But handle it at a confidential return-to-work interview and be sensitive to the fact that people may not feel comfortable telling you about their reasons.  Perhaps they’re suffering from an illness or mental health issue that they don’t feel they can talk openly about? Perhaps they’re finding it difficult to work with their team and are switching off? Perhaps they’re working around caring responsibilities at home?

There's more advice on strategies to control absence here.

On the other side of the coin, coming into work unwell for fear of your colleagues thinking you’re pulling a sickie if you take a day off (presenteeism) seems to be even more widespread than absenteeism. And could be costing businesses even more money.
Recent UK research has found that a quarter of people have gone into work when they're too ill and should be at home.  Working on through illness could account for as much - if not more  - of a loss in productivity than sickness absence, because of errors, infecting others, irritation, lack of concentration etc. Sickness presence can also mean it takes longer for people to recover from illness.
So tackling presenteeism can reduce costs and improve productivity. Tackling the causes is a start: the report found that personal money troubles, work-related stress, worrying about redundancy and perceived pressure from managers all contribute to people coming into work despite being ill.
Finding a balance

To keep the business running successfully and productivity up, we need to strike the right balance here.  The balance between taking action against any employees taking advantage of your sick pay scheme and on the other hand, ensuring the right support is in place for those who are genuinely ill.
Happy and supported employees are less likely to be absent, and ultimately they will be more productive, committed and engaged with the business.  Skilled managers create a workplace people want, an environment where people don’t think about calling in sick unless they’re genuinely ill. How? Interesting and fulfilling work, opportunities for developing our skills and feeling included and valued are all important.
If you have a motivated and engaged workforce with a strong team spirit, every individual who can come into work will do.
We help businesses to manage sickness absence, advising on policy and individual cases.  Do you want to discuss your challenges with a professional, and walk away with a manageable action plan so you know exactly what you need to do? Give us a call today on 07884 475303 or email 


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