Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Sunburn, Food Poisoning, Absenteeism and Hangovers: Welcome to Bank Holiday Tuesday!

Guest blog by Adrian Lewis, Director, Activ Absence

I arrived in work this morning to find my Head of Marketing sat on the pavement outside the office looking somewhat like a lobster.  She informed me she had been dropped off extra early by her other half en route to his GP – both had spent yesterday on the beach with inadequate sun protection and he was suffering from sunstroke with nasty sunburn.  Naturally, he won’t be fit for work today, and given the number of pale people on the beach yesterday and a conspicuous shortage of suntan lotion bottles, I’m guessing he won’t be alone.  South Wales was fortunate to get beautiful weather over the Bank Holiday.

Bank Holiday Tuesdays have a high rate of attrition – even amongst managers with the best staff holiday planning processes.  Whether its down to the after effects of too much alcohol, too much sun or food poisoning down to badly cooked barbecue food, adding to delayed onset ‘Mondayitis’, I’ll hazard a bet that in many workplaces, there’s at least one empty seat today.  Of those that are present and correct today, there will be more than just a few staff dosing themselves up on caffeine pills, aftersun lotion and painkillers to combat excesses of one form or another!

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

How to tackle absence in a season of sport.

With the Olympics due to hit British screens later this year, it's a good time for HR teams to get planning so that they aren't swamped with leave requests and absenteeism during the sporting season.

tackle absence in sporting season

Why do businesses need to tackle absence?

We know through experience that sickies soar during key sporting events – every summer we see Cricket, Wimbledon and Soccer tournaments that create all manner of ‘mystery bugs’ and this year HR will have the Olympics to contend with too.

The increase in summer sport could be scary for HR Managers, who are already used to seeing unauthorised sickness absence rise if Andy Murray is playing well on Centre Court!  Of course, that's on top of planned annual leave which is already higher during the Summer months.

So what steps can HR Managers take to tackle the perfect storm of annual leave, leave clashes and absenteeism that can mar an otherwise sporty summer?

Here are our tips:

1. Keep an eye on sporting fixtures, even if you aren’t a fan yourself.  Make sure that you are prepared for possible sickies in advance, especially in staff-critical environments, such as nursing.  It’s harder to get temporary cover during major sporting events or the day after bank holiday, so plan in advance based on previous experience.  Who was off last time?  Reports are your ally!

2. Fair play is important in sport - it also extends to fair handling of leave requests.  Decide ahead how you will handle multiple requests for staff holiday, especially during sporting tournaments – if you can’t authorise all of them, could you compromise and let people watch the fixtures at work instead?  How will you decide who gets the time off?  Make sure that your system is fair and visible, so that staff are aware of it in advance.  Remember that staff who may not want to watch the game may need time off for other reasons - consider these requests on their merits.

3. To stop absenteeism, make staff aware of your policy on sickness absence and enforce it equally throughout your organisation.  More than half of employed adults believe their work performance is negatively impacted when attendance policies are not fairly enforced throughout an organisation, so make sure your rules treat management and staff equally.

4. Educate your staff.  Staff who take sick days to ‘watch the match’ don’t realise that short term absence has a big impact on the company’s bottom line and is more disruptive to the business than long term sickness.  Raising awareness can encourage them to book planned annual leave days rather than faking a ‘sickie’.

5. Always use return to work forms and interviews.  Sporting absenteeism seems to have regular offenders – by having to complete a return to work self-certification form, or experiencing a return to work interview it’s less likely to be brushed under the carpet.  Inaction sets an example to the rest of your workforce, so if your reports spot a trend, act on it.

6.  Consider your systems in advance - spreadsheets and paper forms are less than ideal for managing both staff holiday and sickness absence, especially if more than one person is able to authorise leave.  One council last year had highly paid technical staff covering photocopier clerks, all because a paper leave system administered by several different line managers allowed a whole department to take holiday at the same time.  HR only found out at the last minute and were unable to obtain agency cover.  In practice, by the time HR get involved, it's often too late.  Absence management software is designed for purpose, prevents leave clashes at line manager level and usually saves more than it costs - it's also visibly fair!

 7. So far we’ve only looked at the down sides of the sporting season, but in my experience the best way to deal with sports tournaments is to recruit them as a cure!  Here’s just a few ways HR Managers can use the sporting season to build teamwork, engagement and motivation at work:
· Have sports themed team challenges at work, maybe even get two tickets to an event (with the time off work!) as a prize for the best performers
· Have themed days in the office during matches/events and show them on TV to encourage attendance (who wants to be left out?)
· Consider running an exercise challenge throughout the Olympics to improve wellness
· Keep an eye out for any team sports a company team could take part in
· Sport often promotes more interest in health so have healthy drinks and snacks available at work and see if your local gym will give your staff a free trial

Just because planned and unplanned absence is a serious issue, doesn’t mean it has to be boring or arduous.  This sporting summer can be fun for HR people too, tackling absence with a little planning and setting out the rules of the game before play will go a long way!

Adrian Lewis, Absence Management Expert, Activ Absence

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Is presenteeism the solution? Flexible working is better, says Lewis.

A new report suggests that being at work while you are ill may not be such a bad thing after all, however Adrian Lewis, absence management expert from Activ Absence suggests that flexible working would be preferable in many cases.
The report on so-called ‘Presenteeism’ by the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) challenges the idea that workers have to be 100 per cent fit before going back to work and argues that the workplace can have a beneficial effect on rehabilitation and recovery, even for workers with serious health conditions.
The report, ‘Presenteeism: A Review of Current Thinking’ by IES Principal Associate Dr Valerie Garrow, looks at research from across the world on the causes and impact of ‘Presenteeism’ – defined as ‘showing up to work when one is ill’. While the report acknowledges that Presenteeism can be a negative phenomenon (risking cross-infection and increasing the chances of making some health conditions worse) it also suggests that employers should look at the positive benefits of some Presenteeism at work... keep reading

Nerves of Steel for HR in Wales

Adrian Lewis, Commercial Director for Welsh HR software company Activ Absence, shares his thoughts on the steel industry crisis affecting South Wales:

As a South Wales businessman, living in Neath, I have many friends working both directly and indirectly for the steel plants in Port Talbot and Trostre in Llanelli – so like many others in the region, I have everything crossed and am hoping that the current bidders are able to save as many South Wales jobs as possible.

Whoever buys the plants, one thing is clear, a reported £1 million a day loss (i) is not sustainable and the new business owners will be scrutinising every single area of the business to look for new ways to save money, both hi-tech and old fashioned.  The new owners will face some tough decisions and if it saves money, it will be up for discussion.

The good news for the region is that even saving some jobs is better than than none at all, and a buyer will secure the plants’ future, at least for now.

Whilst the financial pressures on home grown steel are especially challenging, the pressure to cut costs and improve productivity and profitability are universal.

SMEs and PLCs across the UK face similar challenges, and it appears our organisations are not equipped to meet them.  Research this April (ii) revealed a UK workforce hindered by complexity, unnecessary administration and poor performing technology.  In fact, 82 percent of respondents claimed to be struggling to complete their daily tasks due to unnecessary complexity.

The report concluded that out of date tech and unnecessary admin is costing the UK £60 billion every year - putting Tata’s alleged losses into perspective.  They also noted that employees were disengaged and viewed as commodities rather than valuable assets and called for a need to create people-centric environments, investment in technology and a reduction in unnecessary admin in order to solve the current crisis.

It’s certainly a report that rang true with me – just using spreadsheets in HR instead of software can cost a business with 200 staff £5,900 a year – it’s a silent cost, because the wages get paid no matter what staff do.  It’s only when managers analyse how much time is being spent on sickness and holiday administration and unchecked absence that managers get a nasty wake up call.

Managers also often don’t consider the cost of sick days, which are often higher when there is less visibility.  Some reports even estimate the true cost of sickness absence to be as high as 30% of payroll. (iii)

Whilst we are experts at reducing HR admin costs, imagine that level of wasted time and effort across the business as a whole.  That may explain why the UK has among the lowest rates of productivity in Europe.

As the report shows, the problem isn’t people, it’s processes, poor technology support, internal politics, and unrealistic workloads, all of which also has an impact on customer service, which some plcs then seek to resolve by outsourcing telephone support to India (in many cases leaving their customers even more unhappy).

Interestingly, whilst the total cost was £60 Billion, the report found that if the UK reduced time wasting at work by one hour, per week, per UK employee – the UK could save £21.4 billion almost instantly.  That makes sobering reading.

It also concluded that improving employee engagement was vital, both to combat a climate of high employment and to meet the UK’s productivity challenge.  The report claimed that investing in technology would in most cases reduce admin and improve engagement in one fell swoop.

It’s great to see research backing up what we’ve been saying for years, that cumbersome manual admin leads to mistakes and disengaged staff.  Improved technology in our experience improves efficiency, employee engagement and communication.  UK plc simply must leave its comfort zone of out of date folders, paper forms, unnecessary admin, wall planners and spreadsheets and invest in technology that saves money in both the short and long term.

Of course, the steel industry has far bigger challenges and like everyone else in the region, I’m nervously holding my breath and praying for a good outcome for my home town.

In the face of huge global instability, EU uncertainty and a global steel crisis, an extra £60 billion in the UK economy would be a welcome boost.

(i) https://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/mar/30/tata-steels-british-plants-must-be-sold-within-weeks
(ii) http://hrnews.co.uk/uk-businesses-wasting-60-billion-year-unnecessary-admin/
(iii) http://www.kronos.com/ads/absence/38/Kronos_absence_out_sick.pdf

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Would your business be able to cope with a sick-out?

This week, RMT members have faced accusations of organising an unofficial 'sickout'.  The dispute is getting ugly on both sides, with the union alleging bullying and harassment and Southern Rail blaming network problems on a high number of conductors off sick.

Southern Trains have stopped short of making direct allegations, but have blamed 'unprecedented' levels of sickness among conductors as the reasons for recent cancellations and disruption to its services, leading to MP Peter Bottomley accusing the conductors of organised industrial action in the form of a 'sickout'.

Whilst many UK businesses are familiar with strike action, which sees staff unpaid, a sick out takes the form of employees calling in sick en masse as a form of protest.

If enough staff take part, a sick out can seriously interrupt the daily operations of the target company or agency.   Examples where sickouts have been used are in Detroit, earlier this year, where it is illegal to strike, so teachers phoned in sick for two days, and by a large number of British Airways workers in July 1997, who did not officially take part in a strike but phoned in sick on days where other staff were striking, meaning they would still be paid.

Employers without a suitable provision in their sickness policy could see themselves left vulnerable. With no appropriate policy in place,  employers could be left with no choice but to pay sick pay during a 'sickout'.

Aisleen Pugh, Associate at Bircham Dyson Bell explains on her blog how employers could prepare for this eventuality in advance:

"Employers should consider in advance of any strike action how they will deal with employees who call in sick on strike days -  particularly those who offer enhanced sick pay, for example requiring a medical certificate for one day’s sickness absence even though this is likely to depart from your normal sickness absence reporting procedures (which typically provide for self-certification in the first seven days' sickness absence) and/or a referral to your occupational health provider (bearing in mind, of course, the associated costs of this course of action). 

"It will be important to ensure that any departure from your standard sickness absence reporting procedures is carefully communicated to employees prior to the intended strike action. 

"Employers should also be mindful of the forthcoming changes to the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 proposed in the Trade Union Bill 2015 which provides that workers in important public services (which includes education of those aged under 17) will only be able to take industrial action if, in addition to the amended 50% turnout requirement, at least 40% of those entitled to vote have voted in favour of the action."

While sickout could be considered a form of strike, it is not quite the same thing as a strike, and therefore the UK could see it used as a future tactic where a union cannot get the required turnout to support an official strike mandate.

"If the use of this tactic increases, then a consistent sickness and absence policy will become even more important for employers," says Adrian Lewis of Activ Absence.

"It is concerning to note that most businesses manage sickness and absence via a spreadsheet, and keep limited records on their return to work process (if they have one at all).  This means businesses would struggle to pull out accurate data that would support any allegations of a sickout, which may not even be officially admitted by union members.

"There are many reasons for employers to put in a sound return to work process and to automate their absence management - not least that it increases employee engagement, and makes it easier to defend against claims of harassment in sickness absence disputes.

"It's interesting to note that Southern Trains have as yet failed to release any data about the exact numbers and nature of illness of the staff it says are off sick, one wonders what tools they use to manage and monitor sickness?  

"Whoever is giving the accurate picture is not a matter for us to comment on, but we hope that the underlying dispute is resolved quickly and that the company and union are able to work together to get services running.  All these very public allegations are likely to have a huge impact on customer confidence - with staff, customers and the business, all coming out worse off." 

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

France's plan to ban work emails outside work hours

Repeated reports have expressed concern that modern technology is blurring the boundaries between home and work, which some studies claim is creating a stress epidemic.

Whilst many HR commentators have argued the need to encourage people to ‘switch off’ when they aren’t in work, there are no legal guidelines on this specific issue.

The Working Time Regulations specify that no UK worker should work more than 48 hours per week, but there has been no case law as to whether or not checking work’s emails outside working hours would fall within this limit, and many UK staff continue to check and respond to work emails outside work hours. Read More