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How COVID-19 will impact the future of absence management

Sickness tracking and absence management has become of new critical importance to business. This article has been exclusively developed for HR Directors to consider the implications of the return to work and how to keep staff sickness logged, staff well, as well as reduce business liability.
sick days

The future of absence management in the workplace

Business leaders have called on the government to provide greater clarity over when and how the coronavirus lock-down will end as ministers step up efforts to help companies restart. Undoubtedly the return to the office will come slowly and unless critical to do so, for many businesses, will be a stage later down the line.

Although guidance will vary according to each company’s operating environment, officials are focused now on the fundamentals of maintaining social distancing, operating different shifts, part-homeworking and office hygiene practices. With regard to technology, the focus for the immediate future is all on the UK’s contact tracing app, which is predicted to be ready in weeks.

But in terms of preparing people to start returning to work, there is going to be a real struggle for businesses without proper methods for managing, storing, logging and looking at timelines around employee sickness. How will employers know when it’s safe for staff to come back to work and reopen safely, if their sickness history hasn’t been logged? This need for this intelligence has more life or death than ever.

Whatever the level of government regulation, the world of absence management has changed from a business tracking system, to a business intelligence essential. Here are five reasons why.

Absence intelligence will be mandatory
Until we have a vaccine, or a cure for COVID-19, there is going to be an absolute need for businesses to ensure they log staff off sick with associated timings and symptoms. More than that, they need to communicate to others in the team whether they may be at risk.

There will need to be guidelines on when it is safe for them to return to work.

Imagine if one of your employees is displaying COVID-19 related symptoms, businesses will need to work out who should be informed of that. If one of your employees is in close proximity to a team where one of them calls in sick and has been diagnosed with COVID they need to know about it. They might have a child who is vulnerable or live with elderly parents; it’s vital they know this information, in order to quarantine themselves, or get tested.

These different business scenarios will need guidelines or regulation, as well as communication from leaders in a working environment where presenteeism poses a far more serious and dangerous threat.

Staff wellbeing is business wellbeing
We all know that employee wellbeing is the priority, but aside from that, the business liabilities could be significant too. Without government regulation, there are potential liabilities about a forthcoming return to work and normality. Imagine if one of your employees get seriously ill, are they going to pursue the employer for encouraging them back to work without formal guidelines? Guidance, when it does come, will cover such things as how many people can return to work at a certain time, and what sort of deep cleaning is required for a place of work before people return. It will most likely be the HR department that has to manage all of these new rules and workplace working routines.

For businesses to ensure they have some sort of immunity from these tragic cases, firstly government guidance must be there, and secondly, they need to be able to prove that it has been followed. Unless business has followed a procedure to distance employees and log their sickness record, then they are creating unnecessary risk to their workforce.

Businesses will connect to medical solutions
We have now all been taught in the hardest way how critical employee wellbeing is to the business. With the immense pressure on the NHS, this has created a whole new swathe of other healthcare solutions springing up to help alleviate the strain. Businesses who want to ensure their staff can access the best medical care quickly will take on the responsibility themselves – this also may even become mandatory at some stage in the future.

With GPs up and down the country under immense pressure to meet the rising demand for face-to-face doctors’ appointments, virtual services such as Doctor Care Anywhere, where staff can access GP appointments rapidly, will be on the rise. And responsible employers will want their staff to ensure they get access to the right medical support as and when they need it. Imagine these services linked into your sickness tracking systems and you begin to see how businesses will become intrinsically involved in staff wellbeing and health.

Predictive healthcare analytics will be the new business intelligence
As the duty of care increases for the employer, so does the need for a greater level of healthcare insight into the employees. It’s one thing to give advice to the employees who have been sick, or displayed symptoms, and to understand how well the workforce is. Being equipped with the knowledge to know which of your employees may be at risk of certain illnesses is a whole new level of intelligence, enabling businesses to proactively manage the wellbeing of their staff before the problems escalate. An employee who displays new trends in absenteeism will, if logged and reported correctly, trigger new levels of understanding for a manager to be able to act to help, understand, or rectify.

AI will not only form fundamental planning around forecasting future demands of the pandemic on the health system, but it will also enable employers to forecast trends in their staff wellbeing and requirements. One thing COVID-19 has taught us, is the need for science and the ability to predict.

Caring beyond COVID
Before the crisis hit, employee ‘health and wellbeing’ had already risen sharply up the workplace agenda. Today, employers are encouraged to optimise people’s health and wellbeing rather than merely reduce the risk of injury and ill health as they may have done ten or twenty years ago. This month is Mental Awareness Month, and never before has this seemed so paramount. The virus, which is not about to leave us anytime soon, will undoubtedly leave a spike in mental health cases and issues which have been steadily on the rise, even before the pandemic.

Organisations, some fighting for survival now, will emerge much stronger if they can demonstrate that they have looked out for symptoms within their workforce, shown duty of care and acted in the best interest of their employee health. In the same way that the saying ‘hope you’re well’ has taken on new meaning, the term ‘employee health and wellbeing’ has now been transformed for good, and no doubt for the better.

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    19 June 2024

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