Absence: time to tackle the root causes

With absenteeism costing 30 billion a year, business must start addressing the issues behind the problem.

According to Katja Hall, director of employment policy at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), employee absence directly cost the UK economy nearly £17bn in 2009, that equates to 27 million working days lost due to ‘sickies’. The average direct cost of absence was £596 per employee.

Absence cost varies considerably by sector, with direct costs in the public sector 50% higher on average. Loss of productivity is the most significant cost of absence, followed by the cost of sick pay itself and the cost of staff to cover for those who are absent. These cumulative costs of absenteeism in the UK reached £30 billion last year.

So how should we tackle this? It is important for employers to take an active approach to these issues and focus on the root cause behind the problem. Two thirds of employers believe that a great many absences for illness are not valid and, according to UK medical director of Pfizer, Berkeley Phillips, the recent CBI report unites causes and consequences of absence together with an examination of proactive management strategies, which is currently more important than ever.

With cost being a significant consequence of absence, it is often difficult to manage this issue and retain employee acceptance. This often leaves employers unable to resolve the ongoing losses for fear of losing their staff support. Instead of castigating employees due to their absence, employers should to try to understand these absences by focusing on what the fundamental reasons are which consequently empowers and encourages employees to be more productive.

BT is one company that advocates a managerial as well as technical approach to absenteeism. Aaron McCormack, CEO of BT Conferencing, says: "By enabling employees to work in a way that best suits them, be it remotely or simply part-time, we're encouraging a healthy work-life balance," he says. "This has a knock on effect of making employees more productive as they feel more engaged and supported by the business."

Businesses can prepare and pre-empt situations where staff may be tempted to pull a ‘sickie’ by having the correct time and attendance solutions in place to monitor and record staff attendance and absence trends enabling them to identify typical situations, for example the World Cup, Saint Monday (the tradition of absenteeism on a Monday), winter months and so forth. The Bradford factor is a useful method of calculation that takes the number and frequency of absences to produce a simple score based on their estimated impact on an organisation.

This approach is beneficial to the majority of employees who want to be appreciated in their work and feel as though their health is important to their employers in order to do their best and be productive. Solutions to manage attendance should enable both the employee and the employer/manager to take responsibility and be made aware of their absence trends before they become a problem to the organisation.

Businesses need to implement scalable and flexible solutions that can grow as the number of employees increase as well as being able to manage all types of daily, weekly and periodic working patterns and fixed, part-time, on-demand, rotating shifts and flexitime or committed and annualised contracts. All tme, attendance and absence management tools should offer automated business processes focusing on HR services in human capital management and managers and employees will have the tools to manage their own absence as they do attendance.

Marc Clavereau, (pictured) is managing director of Bodet