Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Rugby World Cup starts this weekend - are you prepared?


Every good HR manager knows that absenteeism will spike at certain times of the year and around certain events – especially major sporting tournaments.

With the 2015 Rugby World Cup about to kick off, companies should brace themselves for an increase in sick days during the tournament as fans overindulge while watching the 'school night' fixtures.

The first match is England -v- Fiji which takes place at 8.00 on Friday, but one to watch for our Welsh customers is Sunday's fixture at 2.30 between Wales and Uruguay.  The first Wales game is of particular interest to patriotic welsh fans thanks to late stage injuries to key players, Leigh Halfpenny and Rhys Webb both sustained injuries in a warm up game with Italy and now Eli Walker has pulled out with a hamstring injury.  Wales is holding its breath and waiting to see if the late entries to the squad can deliver.

It's no secret that Monday is the most common day for staff to 'pull a sickie', so Welsh businesses should be prepared for a few calls this Monday, and wise HR Managers will have a plan in place for the whole tournament.

'Sickies' make life difficult for you and your people - generally short term absences are hardest to cover and impact more on the business than long term sickness absence.   Activ Absence are the experts in planning and managing absence, Commercial Director Adrian Lewis offers the following suggestions on how to reduce absence during sporting events:

1.  Be aware and plan accordingly

With the best will in the world, there are always people who will over-indulge during and after a match, whether it's football, rugby or even cricket!  HR should keep an eye on sporting fixtures and allocate staff resources and prepare for possible absences.  Rugby World Cup fixture dates are here!

2.  Make sure you have a clear absence policy

The single most important step you need to take is to make your policy on absence consistent throughout your organisation and to make your staff aware of it.

More than half of employed adults believe their work performance is negatively impacted when attendance policies are not fairly enforced throughout an organisation.

If you don't have an absence policy, or would like to review it we keep a list of HR consultants and solicitors on our website who we know and trust and any of them would be happy to draft one for you.

3.  Educate employees

The more information your employees have, the more empowered (and therefore motivated) they are likely to be. Many staff do not understand that several short term unplanned absences are far more disruptive to the business than long term sickness. If they were aware of this they would be more likely to book planned annual leave days rather than a ‘sickie’.  The Bradford Factor is a great tool for illustrating this.

4. Use return-to-work forms and interviews

These can help identify absence patterns at an early stage.

You should ask the employee to complete a return-to-work form in order to: welcome employees back, check they are well enough to be at work, identify the cause of the absence, find out whether they have a disability (including invisible ones like asthma, diabetes, epilepsy etc.), discuss any help you might provide to ease the employee’s return to work etc.  It is also vital to establish if any employee sickness has a work-related cause early on, so you can quickly tackle any health and safety issues.

Once a pattern is identified (and smart absence management tools can identify these for you using trigger point alerts), you can take action.  Sometimes a timely word from a line manager early on can prevent a pattern escalating into a major discipline problem involving unions, HR and legal teams - most of the time, early intervention is all that is needed.

5. Get rid of spreadsheets!

Spreadsheets are not a good way to manage sickness and absence, they offer no reportability, they are too prone to human error and don't offer effective communication between the employee, the line manager  and the HR team. That means by the time HR get involved, there is already a big problem.   Don't rely on your accounts package either - it may record sickness but it doesn't manage the problem.

Absence management software is designed for purpose, it usually pays for itself and saves time and money - and businesses like ours will normally offer a free trial so you can see how much for yourself.

Anyway, back to the matter at hand - the late stage injuries to the Welsh squad illustrate how sickness absence can disrupt even the best laid plans.  It is our hope, and the hope of every proud Welshman, that preparations for this eventuality were in place, and that, however unlikely, our boys bring the World Cup home!

Monday, 14 September 2015

Software to manage Home Workers tackles Daytime TV issues!


There has been much talk over the past few weeks about flexible working and working from home – the technology is certainly ready – we ask, though, are Welsh businesses?

It’s certainly been a quarter yielding much research into flexible working.  Research findings from various studies conclude:

· 81% of small business owners say flexible hours are key to business success.
· 39% of UK small business owners would allow employees to work remotely
.       20% of UK employees would take a pay cut in favour of flexible working
· 59% of employees said they would like to work from home
· 50% of managers say they would allow staff to work flexibly

So, why, this week, do we see a study by ‘Working Mums’ finding 20% of working Mothers had to change jobs because their flexible working requests had been denied?  It would appear that the practice is different to the theory when it comes to flexible working.

Some employers wrongly think that if they allow home working their employees will spend all their time watching daytime TV and catching up on the soaps – however this hasn’t proven to be the case.
Research undertaken thus far indicates that home workers in general are more, not less productive AND are far happier.  They are obviously never late and less likely to make a claim for work-related injuries, they take less time off sick and don’t have to contend with commuting nightmares.  Added to that, office space is expensive and if people work from home, employers don’t need to find them somewhere to sit.

For years, sales professionals, delivery drivers and site workers have worked outside the office, so remote working isn’t perceived as a problem in these roles.

Other roles, such as telephone marketing, software development, admin and secretarial work are relatively new to working in this way.  Once the tech is in place, these arrangements can work well and there are a growing number of businesses embracing flexible working in these areas.

Indeed talents like content writers & software developers may flourish better when they are in an environment without interruptions.

Whilst every employee is entitled to request flexible working, employers are only required to consider requests reasonably, which is sensible because not all roles are suited to working from home.  How could, say, a receptionist work from home?  Or a trial lawyer for that matter, or a waitress or care assistant?

Equal opportunities for all are great, but with the best will in the world, you can’t always re-schedule your business to suit a flexible working request.  If a Court requires you to be present at 10:00am, you can’t just tell the judge you are working flexi today.   Likewise, as a carer, you can’t lift a disabled person over the internet.

For those jobs where it is possible to work from home, however, software to manage home workers is affordable and ensures home working is successful.  My message to welsh businesses is to embrace flexible working.  The technology is affordable and always costs less than losing your valuable talent.

In order to work from home, most businesses only need:


  • Communication tools – telephone lines (VOIP and call forwarding technology means you can even be seen to use the same numbers inside or outside work), calendars, and email 
  • Web access (most people have this at home these days), and
  • Visibility – so people know when you are working from home and when you are off.  

Inexpensive software can usually manage all of the above, and a good PC or laptop will frequently manage the hardware aspect (though for some jobs a tablet will suffice).

Nick Soret, Head of Employment Law Consultancy Support at NatWest Mentor, recently said: “Employers are required to deal with flexible working requests in a reasonable manner, or they run risk of being taken to court.”

“But that doesn’t mean it should be feared as a concept and instead should be viewed more as an employee benefit that can be just as beneficial to the company.”

Here at Activ Absence, we’ve seen a real rise in flexible working among our customers in England and staff working flexibly report a better work/home life balance.

Visibility is key so that no matter where people are, they remain a vital part of the team.  Our absence management system manages flexible workers, so other team members know when they should be working in the office or at home, keeps track if workers are attending networking or training events, are off sick or are on holiday.  Having that visibility isn't just about managing people who 'should be working', it also helps respect boundaries and know when NOT to call!

We’ve put our money where our mouth is, so to speak, so we don’t just support our customers in managing flexible working, we allow our own people to work from home when needed – for example, my Head of Marketing edits HR News at home one day per week because she struggles with the distractions of the office.

At least to date, we haven’t heard of any home workers skipping off to watch daytime TV – though customers tell tales of office based workers watching daytime tv on tablets!  Productivity from our home workers is excellent.

Visibility is ultimately the key as it overcomes the daytime TV fear.  Once the visibility issue is sorted, flexible working arrangements thrive and are ultimately successful for both employers and their people.

Wales has a wealth of skilled workers and the opportunity for flexible working could be the key to keeping them in the region and happy and productive in our businesses.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Spreadsheets and sandcastles

Thanks to Tech Dragons, our Commercial Director Adrian now has his own monthly column - here is a link to his first story entitled Spreadsheets and sandcastles