Monday, November 18, 2013

Are You Managing Employee Absenteism?

Most employment awards and agreements (in Australia at least) include provisions for leave of absence, including for illness, emergencies relating to direct family members, and recreation. Some organisations, typically government, but also some larger private sector employees have very generous leave provisions.

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The cost of absenteeism is anticipated in an organisations operating costs and it's only when discretional leave (sick leave and personal leave for family crises), is abused that it requires direct action. Discretional leave is leave that is only taken if needed, unlike recreation leave which is an entitlement that people are expected to take.

In Australia, it's possible for employees to take up to say five days per year of sick leave or personal leave without a medical certificate. It's this leave that is most often being abused. Additionally, some employees find medical practitioners who will provide a medical certificate for almost anything and these are occasionally adding to the problem. One health department I know identified a medical practitioner who was providing medical certificates on request so often that the hospital issued a memo to staff saying it would no longer accept medical certificates from him.

As a human resources manager, I had checks of staff absenteeism done every two months. If I found a pattern of absences eg, every Friday, every second Monday, I reported them to the relevant divisional managers with a request that they interview the staff concerned to find out what their problem was. If staff had regular, ongoing absences, I would discuss their situation with them. Some were genuine, some weren't, but if necessary, I could request individuals undergo a medical examination at the organisations expense to ensure they were fit for duty.

Occasionally, morale problems were the cause of absences within a specific work area. On these occasions, I would counsel the senior manager and encourage them to do some team building and rectify whatever had been identified as the problem generating poor morale.

While it can be very difficult dealing with unwarranted absences, being seen to be actively monitoring the absences is essential. To do nothing, sends a message to staff that their behaviour is acceptable.

Incentive programs eg, giving staff who don't take all their discretional leave an annual bonus can be handy, but can discriminate against those who have genuine reasons to be absent. If this type policy is introduced, it should be done carefully and with thorough research into the reasons why people are absent.

How many people in your organisation take unwarranted leave?


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