Absence is cultural. In the UK absence rates are twice that of the US and four times that of Pacific Asia.
In Ireland, local authority workers have the highest overall absence, double that of private sector workers. A recent report on absence in the Northern Ireland civil service found that staff who had been in the post for less than two years had less than half the amount of sickness absence (5.3 days) than those that had been in their posts for more than two years (11.1 days). Absence costs money (£31b a year in the UK according to PwC) in lost productivity, but also where a culture of absence exists in lost motivation. Motivated staff become less motivated over time as they become part of the culture of absence.
So, how do we shift the culture from one of absence to one of attendance?
Attendance Management Strategies work. In the municipality of Copenhagen an initiative called “Early Action” reduced the sickness rates by 20% in four years. According to Frederik Wiedemann who worked on the study “solutions involving people must build on the human factors of motivation, understanding and respect. In other words something that sounds soft and qualitative can yield very hard, financial returns.”
In general, long term absences lead to HR supporting the employee to return to work. But in the case of recurring short term absences, where there is seldom HR intervention, managers have a crucial role to play. Recurring absence due to ‘sickness’ is often not seen as something that managers need to manage, but it is.
Here are 5 steps that managers can take to promote a culture of attendance.
1. Data is key, managers must understand the scale and nature of the issue. Track and measure attendance in their department. Is there a trend of short term recurring absences? How does their department compare with others in the organisation?
2. Conducting Return to Work Conversations with every employee for every absence will have a direct impact on improving attendance. These conversations should become part of the normal weekly cycle. Focused training can help managers overcome any concerns they have about how to conduct these conversations.
3. Be flexible in negotiating work patterns. Changing working hours may relieve stress for an employee and can boost their attendance. According to CIPD the benefit of changes to working patterns has been recognised by many employers, with over 70% of organisations reporting a positive impact on employee motivation and employee engagement.
4. Ensure that each member of the team feels valued, understands what is expected of them and knows how their work contributes to the success of the department.
5. Create a culture of wellbeing and cultivate a healthy work environment by introducing easy to follow health programmes such as, a lunch time yoga class or running group. Focusing on the health and wellbeing of employees is crucial to sustaining high performance.