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Illustration depicting a phone with a sick day message from an employee

Managing Absenteeism for a More Prosperous Workplace

Whether it be due to ill health, or personal loss, at some point in the career, everyone has to take a day off. But current statistics show Australians may be more prone to it than others, with absenteeism costing the economy more than $44 billion per year. In the last eight years, absenteeism rates have risen by over 7%. An employee calling in absent unexpectedly could cost up to $340 a day in lost productivity.

In Australia, with the exception of casual employees, all employees are entitled to paid sick and carers leave. This is a 10 days per year for full-time employees or a pro rata of 10 days for part-time employees which can be managed easily using an online Leave Management tool.

However, some have suggested Australia is breeding a culture of entitlement, where people feel they need to take their paid sick leave, compounding stress on other employees who have to ‘pick up the slack’.

At the other end of the spectrum, “presenteeism” causes its own issues. “Presenteeism,” where employees show up even when genuinely ill to prove dedication to their work, allows for the spread of disease, resulting in more lost productivity. Sharing may be caring, but in cases such as this, sending the employee home immediately is the best way to make it clear: “If you are genuinely ill, stay home.”

How to know if you have an absenteeism problem

Collecting data on patterns of employee absence is essential to determining whether absenteeism is a problem in your workplace. Monitoring absence trends can assist you to:

  • identify if you have a problem with absence levels in your workplace;
  • categorise the type of absence that usually occurs in your workplace, e.g. Monday ‘sickies’ or cases of longer-term sickness; and
  • highlight patterns in employee absence levels, e.g. are absence levels higher in one particular team or at a specific time of year?

How to manage absenteeism

Try as you might, there are only so many ways to make employees healthier. Short of employing dietitians, doctors, and personal trainers, there is a level of absence due to sickness that you have to accept. However, if it seems like you spend your days fielding and re-delegating work from absent employees, you may have an absenteeism problem.

Understand the underlying cause of absenteeism

Firstly, get to the root cause behind it by having honest conversations with the person about why they are absent so often – it could be because they don’t feel confident in their role, are stressed, are being bullied or harassed by a staff member, have childcare issues or have mental health issues.

Implement strategies to reduce absenteeism

  • Evaluate and implement ways to make the role more engaging – e.g. more challenges, new tasks, training, more responsibility.
  • Offer training where needed.
  • Build good relationships, respect, and trust between management and employees, which includes effectively dealing with under-performers and rewarding those behaviours that are desired.
  • Afford employees the ability to work from home and varied leave options, which focus on work effectiveness rather than time worked.
  • Offer measures which achieve a proper balance in work and personal lives, e.g. part-time, flexi-time, staggered working hours etc.
  • Reduce generous overtime provisions which may entice employees to call in sick on the days that they do not get paid overtime, whilst working those where they do.
  • Offer referrals to mental health or stress management support.

Monitor the results

Using automated time and attendance software (like Roubler) and associated dashboards and reports will help you see if your efforts to manage absenteeism are working.

How to manage absenteeism in extreme cases

You can take disciplinary action against employees who consistently fail to present for work without a lawful excuse and who do not comply with appropriate policies and procedures, but tread carefully and ensure you have watertight evidence to pack up your actions.

According to Fair Work Australia, if an employee takes more than three months of consecutive leave, or three months within a 12 month period, they are no longer protected from dismissal. Additionally, employees are not protected from dismissal if they cannot provide evidence of their illness or injury.

Often lawyers can get involved to help manage absenteeism by:

  • disciplining employees for not following applicable rules when they take personal/carer’s leave.
  • disciplining employees taking personal/carer’s leave because the condition for exercising the right to take the leave did not exist (e.g. the employee took sick leave when he/she was not actually unfit for work due to illness or injury).
  • managing the causes of the absenteeism (e.g. disability or impairment) consistent with legal requirements.
  • advising when it is appropriate to dismiss an employee for absenteeism.

However, lawyers will not give you solutions to excessive absenteeism. This can only be achieved through effective human resource management. You have to communicate with your employees to find out what is driving their lack of motivation and find ways to combat their absenteeism.

Finally, while losing an employee is costly, an absent or disengaged employee could end up costing you a lot more. And with technologies such as recruitment systems and online onboarding software, it is easier than ever before to build a dynamic, engaged workforce who shows up, ready to work.

 

Words by Morgaine Auton

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