The festive season is here again and organisations will once more be counting the cost of festive cheer as rates of absenteeism escalate. Christopher Berry explains how employers can effectively manage absence at this time of year.
Despite the fact that absence has a direct impact on the bottom line, it’s surprising how many organisations don’t take even basic steps to measure or manage it, especially when the party season starts.
The latest Absence Management Survey from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) found that less than three quarters of respondents measure their average annual level of absence, and only 40% monitor the cost. Yet the CIPD’s research shows that, on average, employees take off eight days per year and absence costs £666 per employee – or more than £330,000 per year for a 500-employee company. Shaving that absence average by just one day would save the same company more than £40,000 per year.
However, the cost of absence can be felt in different ways. For example, it can affect everything from the quality of customer service to the speed of product development – issues that may have a negative impact on your sales figures. It also affects employee morale as those in work shoulder the burden of their colleagues’ days off.
So, there’s a clear argument for implementing systems to measure and monitor absence. However, first organisations must introduce reliable means for recording the absence. Often this is a haphazard process, left to line managers who must rely on paper-based systems or a collection of Excel spreadsheets; data gets lost, and inaccuracies creep in when information is re-keyed into the central HR system. Quite often, messages from employees calling in sick don’t even make it to their manager, let alone to HR or anyone else.
Effective monitoring is essential
Without effective monitoring or management of absence records it’s hard to halt abuse or tackle genuine long-term absence effectively: if you don’t handle holiday entitlements either, you could be paying employees for more days off than they’re entitled to.
However, there are software or outsourced services available to manage your absence needs. These make it easier to spot persistent abusers – like the people who regularly take a Friday or Monday off to extend their weekend breaks. It’s also easier to reduce the impact of each absence. Using built-in workflows, the right people can be informed at the right time about someone falling ill so that cover can be provided.
By generating a central pool of data about attendance in this way, analysis becomes possible and this can often identify longer-term trends. This is hard to do when information is scattered about the company on paper forms or different spreadsheets. You might find, for example, that one department has a higher rate of absence than another, or that absence has been on the increase since a policy change.
Noticing trends will enable you to dig a little deeper to find the underlying issues. It may be, for example, that you have a problem with a line manager that’s affecting team morale. By tackling this problem you could reduce absence, improve morale and reduce employee turnover.
A more subtle benefit of an integrated absence system is experienced by companies that then display absence statistics through their employee self-service facility or their company intranet/portal. That’s quite a powerful incentive: when people can see that details of their time off are being captured and scrutinised, the level of absence tends to decline as a matter of course.
And there are benefits for employees too: whenever they need support – be it financial, medical, mental or spiritual – it can be initiated at a much earlier stage if absence is being effectively monitored.
So, if you’re not recording and monitoring your absence today, you should take a look at what’s possible and how easily you could reap the benefits of better absence management procedures right now.
Christopher Berry is managing director of Computers in Personnel.