This article was originally published on the WorkForce blog.
You may never look at workplace absence the same way again.
The meeting started at 4:00 PM on the dot:
Sam Pontius, HR Director, stood up to thank the group for their attendance so late in the afternoon. Then he began to introduce Peter Dover:
“In another life, Pete and I were colleagues,” said Sam. “Now, he travels around the world, consulting big companies, like ours, on HR best practices, including the art of absence management.” Peter stood up to a short applause.
“Thanks, everyone,” he said. “Thank you, Sam, for that warm intro—and thanks for acknowledging that absence management is, in fact, an art. Let me explain that:
A successful absence management strategy is a balanced one, built as much around culture and flexibility as it is around policy and technology. A modern absence management strategy is as much about fostering a flexible culture as it is about creating processes that minimize the cost of each absence.”
Peter picked up a small, white remote off the table and turned on the projector:
“Absence management, like any art, is a balancing act, a craft,” he said. “One that requires commitment, know-how, and tools to pull off. To put that into perspective, here are a few slides…”
Slide 1: “The Business Impact of Absence”
An absence is time, and time is money. While that may be an easy concept to understand, it’s one that is sometimes difficult to quantify.
There are both tangible and intangible consequences:
The tangible, easily measurable costs of absences amount to:
- $3,600 per year for each hourly worker
- $2,650 per year for salaried employees
What does your math come to?
Absenteeism costs organizations $3,600/year per hourly employee.
The intangible, hard-to-quantify costs would be a result of:
- Reduced customer satisfaction levels, which will harm your brand.
- Lowered workforce morale, retention, and recruitment, which will bruise your bottom line.
- Distracted managers hustling to fill a void, which will curtail overall productivity.
Don’t forget: one absence begets another. An ever-growing absence culture is dangerous to any organization.
Slide 2: “Absenteeism: Patterns & Causes”
How do people call in sick?
Typical Absence Patterns:
- Planned vs. Unplanned: Planned absences usually have a lesser impact than those that are unplanned because, as the term implies, organizations can plan ahead, minimizing their operational impact.
- Micro vs. Short vs. Long-term: A micro-absence occurs when an employee arrives late for a shift, for example. A short-term absence takes place over a day or two. A long-term absence can span weeks, even months.
- Fake vs. Genuine: One’s a cover story and the other’s legitimate. You know the deal.
Typical Absence Causes:
Physical: “Do the meeting without me, I have food poisoning…”
Non-physical: “I’m not scared of her, she just makes me uncomfortable…"
- Culture: Hmm… John gave himself a three-day weekend last week …and so did Eric! I think I’ll take Friday off …why not?
This is important info to know because before you can fix a problem, you have to recognize that it exists.
Slide 3: “What’s your absence approach?”
Companies can’t stop people from calling out of work, but they can control how managers approach the event:
1. The "Inactive" Approach:
Taken by organizations with few, if any, formal policies around absence management. In fact, payroll is typically the only reason absences are even recorded. In other words, these organizations aren’t actively learning from their absences because they aren’t collecting and analyzing relevant data. They’re not evaluating why or when or how employees call out of work. They’re simply letting it happen; sticking their heads in sand, so to speak.
This, then, gives each absence more weight because fewer consequences are being accounted for and prevented. Companies with “Inactive” absence management strategies also tend to have deep-rooted cultural issues that enable absenteeism while deflating morale.
2. The "Reactive" Approach:
Taken by organizations that acknowledge how costly and impactful absences can be, but still fail to implement any automated systems to support a modern absence management strategy.
Everything’s pretty much a manual process. A slow, laborious, costly manual process. The term “fire-fighting” comes to mind.
3. The "Proactive" Approach:
Taken by organizations that tackle absence management head-on, anticipating it with comprehensive and mature strategies. Strategies that are efficient and effective thanks to a two-pronged approach that addresses both the technical and cultural sides of the issue:
Culturally, these organizations aim to foster an environment that supports flexible alternatives to classic absence, like shift-swapping.
Technically, the aim is to create smooth, data-driven processes, minimizing the impact of absence through automation, through transparency, through compliance simplification.
Absence analytics software, for example, can pinpoint absence hotspots throughout the day, week, month, quarter. Advanced scheduling solutions can then use that data to create the best, most efficient schedules automatically, which gives managers more time to sell customers and train associates on the sales floor.
“I’m here to talk about the last one…” said Peter.
“I’m here to talk about culture and technology—and the art of blending them in a way that makes your company a fortune.”
Peter pressed the ON/OFF button on the white remote and put it down on the table. The projector’s motor slowly spun itself out.
“When we’re done here, I promise, you’ll never look at absence the same way again.”