The same old age old Absence Problem, yet the 2nd largest people process.
With the recent government sickness absence review response and the continued economic pressure, absence is still high on the agenda. The costs are high and absence is second only to payroll in terms of the largest employee related processes.
Private and public sector organisations alike are quoting statistics and saying “something must be done”.
However, few organisations have the clarity of thought, leadership and vision to make real changes. Why is that?
I believe one key reason is that the age old absence issue is always looked at in the same old way. Even though it is the 2nd largest people process it is only given one metric and no real thought applied to the actual process and required management information.
For example, this article it states that civil servants took 24.4 days off sick in one year and tars all employees with the same brush. Did they all have 24.4 days sick leave? I doubt it!
It is this kind of single metric that creates so much confusion, emotion and hysteria. It is the lack of clarity that prevents action. For example, I frequently hear phrases like “our absence is only 4.2%, and is line with others” – therefore all must be fine!
Imagine if a board of Directors met and the CEO asked the Finance Director “what is our debtor position?” and the FD responded “£2M, which is normal”. Would the CEO just accept that? Unlikely, usual questions and metrics include knowing how old each debt is, how much for each debtor and a break down for the Directors to discuss. So, is just one metric enough for measuring sickness & absence? Does the 24.4 days above tell us anything useful? Why not ask, who is off now? How old is each absence episode? Who has been off sick the most frequently?
Any single absence metric, including ‘days per FTE’ can be very misleading. If a team of ten employees had one person off for one year, the average FTE metric would be 220 working days divided by 10, indicating all employees have had an average of 22 days off. Of course this is not true; only one person has been absent once.
In comparison, if two people have had 20 single days off sick each – it would mean a total 40 individual days of absence, meaning 40 cases of disruption. This would only equate to 4 days per FTE, indicating there is no problem. However, 8 employees, all with 100% attendance records have had to watch while two colleagues keep taking additional sick days off. Is that fair? There is a problem but the FTE metric alone does not show it.
In order for organisations to act and drive down the cost of absence, they need to see the true picture and be able to see where the problems actually are. In order to create this TRUE picture they need a clear and robust process, supported by understandable and workable policies.
Why not apply similar thinking to absence as used elsewhere in the business?
The same old, age old absence problem can be much easier to work with, if the same age old principals are applied from other areas of business.
Rather than looking at 24.4 days, let’s ask:
Who is absent now? How long for? Frequency of absence? Total cost of absence, including indirect costs? What are we doing about any issues identified by the questions here?
These questions can be applied at employee and manager level, thus highlighting not just under performing employees but also under performing managers who are potentially the cause of higher absence in their teams.
Should absence and its various metrics not be a board level balance sheet level focus? Should there not be a more transparent view of what these commonly quoted absence stats mean?
As the 2nd largest employee process it should not be a 3rd rate process which is given lip service rather than focused executive attention.
Download the full “The same old, age old absence problem,” PDF article.
Matthew has extensive business experience having worked in production environments, product development, sales and at board level with a number of employers during his early business years.
He has worked in diverse range of businesses, ranging from water sports clothing to medical technology, development and consulting. He totally understands that customer focus is the key to delivering technology and services that really work for the user and the customer.