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Annie Hayes

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Is the Royal Mail draw the right way to cut down on sickies?

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Royal Mail has received a battering from the media over its controversial reward for attendance scheme, sister site Business Management zone looks at whether the programme sets a bad precedent.


Croner, part of the Kluwer group, says, “Companies thinking of following the example of Royal Mail’s incentive scheme to reward staff for simply turning up to work could end up facing costly compensation claims.”

Croner says it is “highlighting the risk of claims from employees for detrimental treatment merely for exercising their statutory rights to time off sick,” and that they also risk discrimination claims “due to disability, sex and even religion, if rewards are given for full attendance without making allowances for legitimate reasons why employees may need to take time off.”

Croner does appear to have exaggerated the benefits the incentive scheme offers. Business Management Zone understands that a good attendance record allows workers to enter a prize draw, with a Ford Focus car being the main prize. The Croner release describes employees as “being rewarded with cars and holiday vouchers for attending work.”

The Croner release does raise a point about equality in the workplace – the company’s “HR expert” Laura Fleming warning that “The bottom line is that employees should not miss out on rewards because they choose to exercise their legal rights to time off. We advise employers to think carefully about, and make allowances in the scheme rules for all the legitimate reasons why staff might need to take time off.”

But buried beneath the HR/employment law stern guidance it also makes the moral point that: “The fact that full attendance during an employee’s contracted hours is a minimum requirement of any job, an employer may be well advised to consider non-attendance as a disciplinary issue, rather than face the risks of claims through rewarding staff for the basic requirement of turning up.”

That is that attendance is its own reward. This, perhaps is the real issue. Employers have a right to believe that it is not above the call of duty for their staff to actually turn up. This is a bottom-line issue for all companies, but in smaller companies is even more acute than it is in the Royal Mail (The editor of Business Management Zone is wondering whether to enter his post into an incentive scheme – brown paper envelopes turning up before say, tea-time, won’t be fed to the dog and might be attended to.)

But a recent conversation with an IT consultant acquaintance also raised an important issue about incentivising and retaining staff. The consultant described how his company recently hired a senior executive from the United States, and, in addition to paying him a healthy six-figure salary, his relocation package included a rented five storey house in Holland Park, and subsidized private schooling for his two children.

The aforementioned chap happened to be someone’s cousin, and now acts and looks like somebody extremely important, but doesn’t put in a lot of hours (except at lunchtime – entertaining clients) and is near-universally loathed by the rest of the office, most of whom work longer hours for a fraction of this man’s remuneration package, and have to pay their own rent, mortgage, etc.

My IT consultant friend makes the point, “why not get rid of this guy, who is clearly a waste of space, or at the very least give him less money, and occasionally give a bonus to someone who works hard and adds value to the business? That way, you’d lessen the chances of him taking time off, looking for another job, or just feeling generally disgruntled?”

Why not indeed. Or at the very least enter him into a prize-draw.

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2 Responses

  1. Attendance incentives
    I think there is enough history to show that these kinds of incentives are very short lived and can create problems and resentment.

    I know of absence reduction programmes which can have a significant impact on absence levels (email me if you want to know about them) – these concentrate on looking at why people choose not to come to work when they are not really ill; supporting those who really are ill; having appropriate measurement and control systems; and, most importantly, training, empowering and encouraging managers to “own” and manage absence levels (rather than seeing it has an HR issue) including holding “meaningful” return to work interviews. Once the absence level starts to fall and is is seen to be being managed, morale improves and absence stays low.

    Regards,

    Peter

  2. HR, it’s an odd profession
    Well it is. It’s the only profession in which a company trying to get more from it’s staff without beating them with a stick could be criticised endlessly.

    Reward vs. Punishment it’s a simple thing that most people with a psychology A-level could tell you. People will work harder for a reward than they will to prevent punishment. And long-term people become almost immune to punishment, in that they expect it, tolerate it and plain just don’t care anymore.

    In a desperate rush to “support business objectives”, the profession is in danger of ignoring what’s in front of it’s nose. I agree with all the potential issues raised in this article but in all of the article (and others I’ve seen). No-one is asking the basic question as to why all these people are taking time off sick that they’re not entitled to.

    Where’s the plan to address the organisational inadequacies that result in these level of absences? It shouldn’t be that hard to do.

    Constantly punishing individuals is a great way to build a name for your business that says all the things you’d rather went unsaid. It increases staff turnover, recruitment costs, the amount of time managers/HR can devote to the business is reduced, and so on.

    So why not take a radical approach – when your sickness/absence rates are off the chart, why not address the cause of the problem rather than the result?

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Annie Hayes

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