Unions back LOROL absence policy overhaul, says HRD

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London Overground Rail Operations Limited (LOROL) HR director Darren Hockaday has revealed the unions are completely behind an overhaul in absence policy at the company.

The most recent innovation, launched three months ago, introduces live absence monitoring. This means the HR team and people managers have sight of any case as soon as the employee reports it.

"Every time someone calls in [absent] they speak to a line manager or roster clerk. They put the absence on the system and everyone can see that absence within minutes," Hockaday told HR magazine.

Another change that has been introduced is a much closer relationship with occupational health. The move was initially treated with suspicion by London transport union RMT, but then supported when it became clear the new system benefitted workers.

"We had one employee who was off with chronic toothache. Within two hours we managed to get him an appointment with a private dentist. Results like that show everyone how committed we are to wellbeing," Hockaday said.

This commitment led to LOROL winning the HR Excellence Award for Health and Wellbeing in 2013. While a transport company may not be an obvious choice for the prize, Hockaday claims that there are clear reasons for it.

"Maybe some people didn't expect it. But if you realise that 70% of our costs are staff costs, it should come as no surprise that we are focused on it. We are as commercially driven as anyone else in maximising attendance and reducing absence," he said.

What advice would Hockaday give to other HR directors looking to improve health and wellbeing among their staff?

"Keep focusing on it, not just for a month or two months,” he said. “Early intervention in the sickness and absence cycle is crucial. A lot of companies don't monitor long-term sickness, which is our case is over 20 days, until a month later. By this time it is normally too late to deal with the problem effectively."

To enter the 2014 HR Excellence Awards, go to: www.hrexcellenceawards.com. The closing date for all applications is 13 March. 

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