The best business advice, opinion, news and expertise in Greater Manchester and further afield.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Guest Blog: Absenteeism

Peter Mooney of ELAS

There’s a good chance that many managers across the region will be thinking about absenteeism. As we all know, lots of workers have an unfortunate knack of falling ill on a Friday, often deteriorating so rapidly that despite being fit and well on the previous afternoon that, come 9am, they are too ill even to phone and have to resort to sending a text message to their boss to explain their absence.

If this sounds familiar, then you can at least rest assured that you’re not alone. Figures released by the Office for National Statistics recently show that, after a temporary outbreak of healthiness during the recession, the British workforce is back to its pre-credit crunch levels of sickness. And the medics were telling us that the recession was bad for our health.

Call me cynical but I don’t think for one second that our fitness to work – as a nation – has changed one iota during this time. What changed was our willingness to work. It stands to reason that when the initial prospect of job cuts loomed large, few people wanted to be caught throwing a sickie. Once the threat has passed, then the prospect of an unofficial duvet day suddenly becomes more appealing.

Of course it’s wrong to assume that all those texting in sick today are faking it, but the problem is serious enough for David Cameron to have included steps to tackle absenteeism in his Welfare Reform Bill. Warning that “we need to get to grips with the sick note culture,” Mr Cameron has asked British Chambers of Commerce Director General, David Frost, to join Dame Carol Black in reviewing sickness absence.

The biggest part of the challenge is clearly to get those who are genuinely ill back to good health so that they can be effective, productive workers again.

My own company’s research over the past five years suggests that rather than getting better, our country’s appetite for unofficial holidays is indeed growing – with as many as 375,000 people a day calling in sick at the peak of the absenteeism season (traditionally around the start of February, as winter colds combine with less clinical factors such as miserable weather, dark nights and a long wait until the next bona fide holiday).

We recommend a firm but fair approach whereby businesses start by refusing to accept text messages as adequate notification but also, and more importantly, use a complex formula known as the Bradford Factor to help them determine which staff are honest but unhealthy, and which are likely to be ‘pulling a fast one’.

While it sounds complicated, there is computer software available (such as ours, Employersafe, as it happens) which will do these calculations for you and not only alert you to which staff you need to deal with, but advise you on how to do it safely without ending up in an Employment Tribunal.

The alternative is to turn a blind eye and hope it doesn’t do your business too much harm. The only problem with that is that, as this week’s ONS figures show, absenteeism is catching.

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