Rising levels of sick leave provide a stark reminder that it is welfare and attention – not just wages and career progression – that is crucial to attracting and retaining talent, says Crown Workforce Management’s Naomi Barlow, who is calling for a blanket requirement for all staff to have regular workplace welfare checks.
Sickness levels among UK workers is at a ten-year high according to a report from the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD), and while this made headlines, I for one, am not surprised.
High levels of sickness leave have been, and continue to be, a big problem in the 15 years that I have helped to manage workforces.
The only thing that is starting to change are the reasons for absences. Historically it would be suspicious absences.
This is where staff would say that they were sick on dates where they had annual leave rejected. Earlier on in my career when I was managing a workforce, when some staff applied for annual leave via paper many of them assumed that it would not get noticed, however due to the rules of our online workforce management system it flagged to us when someone’s sickness leave married up with rejected holiday dates.
This type of problem would have been industry-wide, and I believe has changed in recent years though due to the rise of sophisticated time and attendance systems.
Now, as the CIPD report states, it is more related to short-term illnesses, Covid, stress and the cost-of-living crisis.
Taking a genuine interest in your employee’s wellbeing, and demonstrating to them how you are doing this, can play a big role in reducing staff sickness.
When I was an office manager, we had a rule that if a staff member was sick three times in three months, we would bring them in for a welfare meeting. I had previously worked with a member of staff who had been off for our five times with a cold and flu within the space of a year.
While the objective of the meeting was to try and improve this staff member’s attendance record, we equally wanted to ensure we were doing everything we could as an employer to make sure this person was ok.
Not only did showing this person a record of how many times they had been absent surprise them, our suggestion of offering her a flu vaccine was accepted, and we then went nine months without having an absence from that same member of staff.
I’m not saying this is an easy fix that will work for everybody, but it does demonstrate that having a “staff first” approach can help to reduce the number of work absences.
However, businesses need to have the right technology in place to be able to truly embrace this approach, as it is much harder to spot trends by just using pen and paper.
Initially workforces are resistant when their employer moves from a paper-based approach to online workforce management systems as they feel like Big Brother is watching them, but from my experience once you explain to them the health-related reasons for the implementation – backed up by regular welfare meetings - then this attitude changes.
If a business doesn’t pay attention to its staff and they feel undervalued, then they are either going to go off sick or leave, however, if regular meetings are held with each staff member about their health then the exact opposite is likely happen.
In my role at Crown Workforce Management, I am finding that larger companies with the most physically demanding roles tend to have higher levels of sickness.
Smaller firms don’t have big issues – and that’s likely to be because they are closer to their staff and understand what support they need.
These findings from the CIPD are really important in reminding the whole business community of what can happen if you do not check in with your staff on a regular basis.
While having workforce management software in place is a must-have tool to react to any welfare issues with staff – as a business community we must go one step further and be more proactive in reaching out and taking an interest in colleague welfare.
Naomi has more than 15 years’ experience in managing workforces, and as a Pre-Sales Consultant at Crown Workforce Management, demonstrates time and attendance systems to businesses.
Crown’s Workforce Management system incorporating its powerful Time and Attendance capabilities, offers a solution to streamline and optimise the processes of managing absence in both the short and long term. By utilising user-reporting, workforce analytics, and proactive absence monitoring, employers can identify trends, address root causes, and implement strategies to reduce the impact of sickness absences.