Predicting the unpredictable

Unscheduled workplace absence is, not surprisingly unpredictable, difficult to manage and expensive. It occurs for a variety of reasons - sickness to winter weather...and everything in between. Simon Macpherson, Senior Director Business Development & Operations, Kronos Systems, looks at some measures that can be put in place.

The impact on an organisation due to unscheduled workplace absence is always the same - it’s a headache for employers managing the absence in terms of workload, customer service and production planning. Unscheduled absence is one of the most serious issues affecting the efficiency of UK organisations with, on average, 3.7 percent of annual payroll costs lost on unscheduled absenteeism. That’s around eight days per employee per year - with some industry sectors seeing much higher levels. There are the obvious direct costs of absence, such as overtime costs or temporary cover, but there are many more indirect costs of absence that need to be considered by organisations, for example: increased management time, productivity issues, and the negative impact on both customer service and staff morale.

“There are still significant numbers of companies who guess at absence levels in their organisations and pay little attention to accurately measuring the situation”

Employers can’t manage what they don’t measure. The most recent figure from the CBI/Pfizer Absence and Workplace Health Survey gives the overall cost of absence as nearly £17 billion per annum, with ‘sickies’ (sick days not due to genuine illness) costing an estimated £2.5 billion. So it’s certainly a cost worth measuring, managing and reducing. The cost of absence is now so well documented that many organisations continuously task themselves with managing down absence levels, but there are still significant numbers of companies who guess at absence levels in their organisations and pay little attention to accurately measuring the situation.

Employers can’t manage what they don’t measure. Absence management can come in the simple form of a pen and paper system where a manager notes down every period of absence on an employee record card. While this is acceptable for a handful of office-based workers perhaps, it wouldn’t work so well for a manufacturer that has 500 or so employees, with varying skills, working 24/7 across multiple shifts and in a number of locations. Larger employers need something more automated in order to effectively measure absence. These companies tend to suffer significantly higher absence levels than smaller organisations, as the average number of days of absence rises considerably above 350 employees. Pen and paper or spreadsheet-based systems are too cumbersome, time-consuming and inaccurate as they rely on human data capture. Increasingly, organisations capture employees’ working hours and absence via real-time time and attendance systems, which automate the measurement of absence levels and trends and push relevant information to line managers and HR.

Measuring and monitoring absence with a workforce management system can be done retrospectively in order to benchmark and create company statistics. Alternatively, it can be done in real-time by organisations that need to know who has arrived to start a shift, where there are gaps due to absence, and where there might be additional employees in the workplace to provide cover. For many companies, monitoring absence levels isn’t something that’s carried out twice a year for management reports. It’s done minute by minute to ensure that staff are always available for the efficient running of a business.

What’s more, many organisations now understand that by scrutinising absence data, it’s easier to see patterns of absence behaviour that can give cause for concern about an employee - concerns that can be addressed before a health problem becomes serious. Good health is good business, and emerging evidence now suggests that for many people, early intervention will help to prevent short-term sickness absence from progressing to long-term absence and ultimately worklessness. Therefore, the workplace has a key role to play in identifying early indicators that an employee might be unwell. A key shift in attitude is required to ensure that employers and employees recognise the key role the workplace can play in promoting well-being.

Employers can also look for ways in which potential health issues can be identified, but they need the tools to do this. With these in place, organisations can pro-actively measure absence levels and patterns for individual employees. Line managers and HR professionals can be automatically alerted to unusual absence patterns, which might give rise for concern about an employee’s well-being, particularly if the employee has had a previously good attendance record.

The key to spotting a potential problem, however, is the timeliness of the information received. Using a paper-based system and spreadsheets means relying on out-of-date information, whereas real-time information will alert a manager within seconds of an employee failing to turn up for work, allowing the line manager to act quickly.

There are many ways in which organisations are successfully reducing absence levels, and a recent Kronos survey revealed some of the more effective tools that employers use to minimise absence. Around 29% of employers believe that timely return-to-work interviews are the most effective absence management tool whilst 11 percent of employers think that careful monitoring of patterns of absence behaviour is the most effective. Approximately 11 percent believe that offering flexible working is effective and a further 11 percent maintain that awarding an attendance bonus is key to driving up attendance and reducing absence.

More and more organisations are taking absence management seriously. Vaillant Group, Europe’s number one boiler manufacturer, introduced flexible working and real-time attendance monitoring from Kronos at its factory in Derbyshire, and in doing so, reduced absence levels by 31 percent to 2.8 percent. There are significant savings to be made by monitoring and measuring absence levels in real-time and no organisation can afford to ignore the problem.

Simon Macpherson, Senior Director Business Development & Operations, Kronos Systems

Created on: 26-Apr-12 13:32


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