Why business owners shouldn’t turn a blind eye to a ‘sickie’

Pulling a sickie is becoming such a norm that there is now a National Sickie Day (it’s the first Monday in February in case you were wondering!). But this is a very unhealthy attitude towards sickness and employers have a vital part to play in preventing it from infecting their teams.

What is a sickie?

We all know that there are some days when your employees will wake up and just want to roll over because they couldn’t think of anything worse than having to be at work. And whilst the majority sip their morning coffee to feel human and fuel themselves for the day ahead, many workers are burying their heads under their duvets, whilst trying to think of a credible excuse regarding their whereabouts to give to their employer.

National Sickie Day

So what is it about that fateful February Monday, that makes it a prime day for calling in sick? Could it be that many are getting over (or still continuing) their drinking binge after partaking in dry January? The findings from the latest Sick Report by breatheHR shows that 21% of workers have pulled a sickie because of a hangover.

Apparently we also need more time in bed during the winter and we’re more likely to get ill, making it the perfect season to feign illness. In a study by The Fine Bedding Company, a staggering 69% of the country’s workforce said they would be tempted to make the most of the national sick day.

Sickies aren’t just for skivers

Whilst there are some that pull a sickie because they are hungover or want to start their weekend early (21% and 14% of respondents respectively), the research showed that nearly half (42%) of those that pulled a sickie did so to rest and another 19% have done so to avoid a stressful situation at work. And it appears that this isn’t happening in isolation, as those that pull a sickie tend to do so on average 3 times a year. All of these reasons for pulling a sickie should be a red flag to an employer and shouldn’t be something that they turn a blind eye to.

What employers can do about sickies

The celebration of a National Sickie Day and high number of employees admitting to feigning illness to get out of work makes it clear that sickies are becoming normalised in the UK’s working culture. In order to minimise the number of sickies in your business there are a few things that you can do, if you haven’t already!

Implement an absence policy

Don’t accept text messages or vague emails as acceptable ways for employees to report sickness. Put in place a process that both you, as an employer, and your employees should adhere to if a case of sickness arises – whether it is true or not. That way everything goes through the same procedure as per your sickness policy and is dealt with in the same way ensuring consistency and support for your staff. Hopefully resulting in a speedy return to work.

Record and measure sickness

There are a number of methods that you can use to record and measure absence. A number of small businesses use spreadsheets and keep a record of any return to work interviews, whereas others use absence management software to keep track of the absence data relating to their businesses. The important thing is to ensure that you are measuring and recording absence effectively so that you can pick up any trends to identify any recurring absences and help your staff with any potential issues they are having.

Engage your team

If your team is uninspired and unengaged, then it is likely they’ll find reasons not to come into work, so focus on ensuring your team stays engaged.  Make sure that employees enjoy their work, respect and support each other, and get acknowledgement, training and support.  Most importantly is that work/life balance is kept under control and if someone works late or over a weekend, they are given off days in lieu. In return you get employees who want to come to work, who want to be part of the business and who are fully engaged.

Open up communication

It is worrying to see that 19% of respondents have pulled a sickie in order to avoid a stressful situation at work. Communication is a key part of business success and you need to foster an environment where open communication is accepted. This number is easily preventable and it could be lowered if small businesses opened up clear lines of communication for their employees to be able to discuss situations.

Lead by example

Our plugged in, always on culture is leaving everyone in a bit of a conundrum on where the line is between work and life, if such a thing exists. Half of business owners questioned admitted that they have contacted an employee whilst on sick leave. Therefore, if you can set out your expectations for your workers when it comes to appropriate times to be working (whilst on sick leave shouldn’t be one of them), and adhere to them, it is likely that they will follow suit.

You’ll be lucky to completely stop sickies taking place in your company and they are certainly not something that you should ignore, but introducing a stricter policy for reporting sickness and communicating your expectations would be a good place to start.

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How SME owners can prevent an always on culture

Small businesses are the powerhouse of the UK economy, employing 15.7 million people and accounting for 99.3% of all private sector businesses at the end of 2016. So what can small business owners do, if anything, to prevent this always on culture from manifesting and resulting in an absence epidemic as research findings predict?

We’re all trying to keep up

Wendy Read, Founder and Managing Director of HR revolution, an HR consultancy with the mission to revolutionise the way in which businesses work with HR, says that in her experience many business owners have an open attitude to absence. “A lot of business owners expect to be able to see if there is a problem and hope that their employees will let them know when they are feeling stressed or in need of down-time, but in reality many working environments are so fast-paced, highly-energised and driven to succeed that anyone not on the treadmill gets left out of the loop quickly.”

She goes on to say that, “a standard working week is no longer Monday to Friday it can be 24/7, we all have mobile devices that keep us in the loop whenever we request and a culture that means we want to be included and up to speed constantly updating our apps and email to see what’s going on. Downtime is often still ‘online’ so there is still no real separation angle. This does then tend to lead to a mentality where we are always on. If this is not managed properly it can lead to many more stress related absences and longer-term workforce management issues.”

Business owners want action

Wendy believes that it’s tough for business owners to change this mentality. ”They want action,” she says. “If someone is thriving on working long hours to deliver and over achieving, why should that be a bad thing? The employee wants to develop and build their skills; the business gets the input and ultimately the success rates rise. As a business owner myself I get it, I can really see why many of my peers will always ask, ‘What’s the issue?’”

However, the issue is that, according to breatheHR’s sick report, not only do one in three business owners think it’s fair game to contact staff whilst they are on holiday, over half (51%) of business owners contacted staff whilst they were on sick leave. The source of their persistence is clear with 85% of business owners admitting that staff absences have an economic impact on their business. This is leading to more than half of employees (54%) not taking their full annual leave entitlement and feeling pressured to continue working despite being on paid leave, with 52% responding to work emails whilst on annual or sick leave.

Setting a good example

Spin the situation round and we see it really is truly a short-sighted vision for your workforce and not a positive example to set. Business owners don’t take holiday themselves (on average business owners have taken 18 days annual leave in the last 12 months) and they contact employees whilst they are on holiday which in turn leads to employees calling in sick to have rest, but not succeeding. It’s a vicious circle that businesses are increasingly becoming caught up in.

“Short-term it leads to stress, anxiety and lack of sleep, which then potentially leads to workforces that don’t take their full holiday, fearful they may miss out or lose work. This is likely to result in more time out with stress and ultimately burn out. This is not a sustainable solution and makes for a stressed-out unhappy workforce that means ultimately your business will lose them through absence, resignation or burn-out” warns Wendy.

She goes on to advise that helping to change this mentality has to come from the top and that business owners, managers and mentors have to embed a sense of achievement and success, alongside the ability to be able to take some time out. “We almost have to start retraining our workforces to encourage downtime to allow true focus when employees are working and switch off when they are not. Always working; actively monitoring emails, apps and web traffic is not a healthy way of working. There are many ‘switch off and slow down’ policies that are starting to work their way into the workplace, but many of these still aren’t taken seriously.”

How you can prevent an ‘always on’ culture

It’s clear that this always on culture isn’t manifesting itself in a positive way for employees. What can begin as a refreshing thirst for drive could soon lead to burnout. But how can you redefine your workplace culture? Here is what Wendy thinks you should do to prevent this from happening because it’s not as simple as rolling out a policy.

“Rolling out a policy and hoping that resolves things won’t work. I believe it’s about setting an example, providing support, and training staff to explain why switching off and taking your holidays is important; for wellbeing, for longevity and for business success. This isn’t just the case for employees. As a business owner or manager you need to lead by example. It’s so important that you have down-time and are fresh and energised, as you are responsible for the development and support of not only yourself, but also your business and your workforce.”

Making sure your workforce has a way of raising any issues that enables them to seek support when they really need it is as important and is how you can ensure you get to the root of the problem. Here are some of the ways you can make this happen in your workplace:

  1. Set up great management, mentoring and support functions. Employees need someone they can turn to.
  2. Utilise an Employee Assistance Programme
  3. Research more holistic solutions such as massage or relaxation programmes like yoga. Chill out areas are built as standard to many office environments as its important to have somewhere that employees can get away from work.
  4. HR support for allocation and usage of holiday time to ensure employees are fully supported in scheduling time out of the office.
  5. Return to work support for those that are absent due to stress or illness.
  6. Wellness training in-house to help support your team’s development
  7. For the more serious levels of support many workplaces offer counselling support through their medical or EA programmes that can help directly with specific issues.

Join Wendy for this webinar to see how you can implement these ideas in your small business to prevent your staff from taking sickies.

Conclusions

Fostering an always on culture is causing an absence epidemic. Whilst business owners reap the rewards from an engaged and driven workforce they are subsequently not considering the long-term effects this has on their employees. Small businesses are thinking about their people too late, and are being hit in the bottom line because of it. Through setting a good example, encouraging communication early on and supporting their staff this can all be prevented.

HR Revolution – www.hrrevolution.co.uk

When do a few drinks after work turn into a potential HR nightmare?

In a culture where regular heavy drinking and partying hard has become the norm, many of us are no strangers to tipple after work, a glass of wine or two with colleagues to put the working week and the world to rights or an informal brainstorming session over a few beers to bond away from the constraints and routine of being tied to a desk.

But as a business owner, you no doubt fully recognise that alcohol can turn into a serious problem in your workplace if it’s not carefully managed.

What would you do if an employee turned up for their shift looking worse for wear and constantly late?  What if rowdy behaviour in the pub brought your business into disrepute? and what exactly is the difference between your employee enjoying a couple of drinks, and your business being faced with a more serious problem?

What you really need to understand is…

You have legal obligations under The Health and Safety at work Act 1974, The Transport and Works Act 1992 and The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.

You must have policies that ensure that issues are handled fairly and consistently and your managers should have sufficient training and capability to deal with workers who need help.

It would be well to note here that taking a hardline approach rarely serves anyone well. You probably don’t need us to tell you that dragging an employee with a serious problem into your office and giving them a telling off isn’t going to fix anything.

As a responsible employer, you’ve got a duty of care to make sure that you support your employees through difficult times… Which is a solid reason why many employers now view alcohol and drug problems as illnesses that need to be treated through rehabilitation practices.

Of course, drugs can be a different kettle of fish entirely, as they’re less socially acceptable, and can have a much more damaging impact on a person’s life than enjoying a few drinks with workmates now and again.

Remember too that if you have a team of managers, their role is important in all of this. Can they spot potential problems? Do they have the confidence and ability to tackle them? Do they know where to turn to for expert help if things start to escalate?

If you’re just reading this blog out of interest, and you don’t have an issue like this in your workplace at the moment, then that’s great.  However, you must recognise that you do need to be prepared, firefighting issues like this is always going to be difficult for everyone involved.

This is complex stuff, and you don’t have to manage it on your own.

Get in touch with HR Revolution +44 203 538 5311 or email: info@hrrevolution.co.uk to arrange a no-obligation and confidential discussion around how we might be able to help you deal with alcohol and drug problems at work.

HR Revolution – www.hrrevolution.co.uk

5 ways of dealing with sickness and absence in the workplace

Ok so employees’ being sick is a fact of life in the workplace, but what happens when it becomes a problem and what are measures you can take as an employer to stop it becoming unmanageable.

We have listed below 5 ways which will help you deal with it effectively:-

  1. Promote attendance

Why not praise and reward employees that don’t take time off.   Obviously you don’t want people to feel they are doing something wrong if they are genuinely ill, but an incentive like this could encourage a more positive mindset about attendance.

2. Have a strict sickness policy

Don’t take a casual approach to people calling in sick, you don’t want to give the impression you are not that bothered and encourage employees to take days off sick. A policy which names a member of staff/HR Department who must be informed before 9.15 am by telephone on the day of absence for example, would make those that are fabricating their illness think twice.

3. Follow up absences

After a period of absence don’t let an employee slip back to work as if nothing has happened. Make it policy for them to have a meeting with their manager/HR Department to provide a clear explanation and any relevant proof of their illness, such as a doctor’s note. This is also an opportunity to identify any root causes in the workplace that you may be able to deal with.

4. Be flexible about working hours

Some people just aren’t up to working at 9 a.m. Others wake up some days unwilling to face eight hours in front of the screen. Would it be impossible for your business to operate if you let employees decide their own hours? It’s amazing what a difference it can have on absence.

5. Encourage employees to adopt a self-employed mentality

It’s not really a coincidence that self employed workers rarely have a day off sick. They take complete responsibility for what they do, so they are motivated to do a good job.  Try to create some of that self-employed ethos in your workplace. Give employees control over their own work so they really want to be there to do it. As well as decreasing absenteeism this will create a positive can-do atmosphere in the workplace.

If you have any issues with sickness and absence and need some guidance, give HR Revolution a call + 44 203 538 5311 or email: info@hrrevolution.co.uk, we can help.

HR Revolution – www.hrrevolution.co.uk

10 of the best “i’m sick” excuses…

Do you remember the time last year,  when you had to call in sick because a swarm of bees were surrounding your car and you couldn’t get in it to get to work… No.. didn’t think so?

However, someone does, believe it or not that is a real excuse that was given by an employee to her manager to explain her not turning up to work, according to a survey carried out by Career Builder and this is just one of the many outrageous excuses that popped up.

Did you know that over 30% of workers have called in sick when they were actually well… Be warned though, there are quite a high number of employers that do actually check up to see if it is legitimate and some of these excuses might not cut the mustard…

In order of popularity:

  • They just didn’t feel like going to work.
  • They simply need to relax (personally I relax more at work than I do with 3 kids running round!).
  • They had a doctor’s appointment (ok, my doctor is always running late, but not by a whole day!).
  • They needed to catch up on some sleep (poor little lambs).
  • They have a few personal errands that need running (could you drop off my dry cleaning whilst skiving!).

They seem a bit lame don’t they and as an employer/employee I’m sure you’ve heard them all, but have you heard some of these “real” beauties…

I’m too drunk to drive.

I got arrested!?!

My friend is on annual leave so I can’t get a lift.

It’s my dog’s birthday and I need to arrange a party for him.

And HR Revolution’s favourite excuse to call in sick…

An employee said that someone had glued all her doors and windows shut and she couldn’t leave the house!

These are all genuine – honest – please do let us know if you have any more weird and wonderful excuses, we’d love to hear them.

All jokes aside though, as an employer you are perfectly entitled to challenge the authenticity of an absence and if an excuse seems a bit too far-fetched then ask for evidence if appropriate.

HR Revolution can help, download our FREE guide to dealing with sickness and absence in the workplace HERE.

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Friday fun… Check out these silly “sick-note” excuses!     

Do you remember the time a few months ago,  when you had to call in sick because a swarm of bees was surrounding your car and you couldn’t get in it to get to work… No.. didn’t think so?

However, someone does, believe it or not that is a real excuse that was given by an employee to her manager to explain her not turning up to work. According to a survey carried out by Career Builder, this is just one of the many outrageous excuses that popped up.

Did you know that over 30% of workers have called in sick when they were actually well…. But be warned, there are a high number of employers that do actually check up to see if it is legitimate, and some of these excuses might not cut the mustard…

In order of popularity:

  • They just didn’t feel like going to work.
  • They simply need to relax (personally I relax more at work than I do with 3 kids running round!).
  • They had a doctor’s appointment (ok, my doctor is always running late, but not by a whole day!).
  • They needed to catch up on some sleep (poor little lambs).
  • They have a few personal errands that need running (could you drop off my dry cleaning whilst skiving!).

They seem a bit lame don’t they and Managers I’m sure you’ve heard them all, but have you heard some of these “real” little beauties….

The employee was giving up smoking and so was too grumpy to work.

The employee had bitten her tongue and couldn’t talk.

The employee’s false teeth had flown out of the window while driving.

The employee simply couldn’t decide what to wear.

And my favourite…

The employee said that someone had glued all her doors and windows shut and she couldn’t leave the house!

What do you think… real or not??

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When is it OK to call in sick?

When companies are working as hard as they are, often with fewer employees, you can understand why they struggle when employees call in sick, but are there occasions when we should be saying, don’t come into the office.

Mondays in particular are hard to sympathise with people.   When the phone rings and an employee has a croaky voice saying, ‘Sorry I’ve got a tummy bug’… really!  You can’t help but think, heavy weekend?  OK, maybe that’s just plain cynical… but in many cases it is more productive for an employee to take a day off work to recover from a spell of illness rather than to come in, with reduced productivity and the potential to spread their illness to colleagues.

Sometimes, showing a little more sympathy and flexibility when employees are unwell is necessary and can help maintain a healthy and committed workforce.

Here are some examples of when it is an acceptable reason to stay away:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Sick-bug
  • Flu

Always advise your staff to consult with their doctor at the earliest opportunity and keep you informed of any updates, especially if there is an extended absence from work.

If you need any guidance, download our FREE guide to sickness and absence here…

 

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4 Strategies for reducing absenteeism

According to research carried out by PwC, the annual cost of sickness absence has rocketed to £29 billion for UK companies. Simply put, your employees are calling in sick, and it’s having a severe impact on your bottom line. If you want to mitigate the impact, it’s time to think about how you can nip the problem in the bud.

Now of course, it’s important to note that managing absenteeism isn’t about trying to ensure that every single employee is always present and correct. Even with the best people management policies and procedures, it’s highly likely that you’ll still have to pick up the phone now and again and be told that an important member of your team can’t make it into the office today.

That said, there are still certain things that you can do to make sure that the occasional absence doesn’t spiral out of control, and become a real problem for your business. Here, we’re going to outline some proven strategies that you can put into action.

  1. Clearly outline your expectations

If you don’t already have an sickness absence policy, then this needs to be a KEY priority, download our ready to use template here. Remember you can’t expect staff to follow your guidelines, if they don’t even exist! A good policy will outline arrangements for calling in sick, identify trigger points that indicate that absence has reached an unacceptable level, and will be clearly communicated to all staff.

Of course, your policy won’t be worth the paper it’s written on if it doesn’t become part of the way you do business on a daily basis. Line managers need to be confident with putting it into action, and it’s vital that the rules are applied to everyone. If you have employees with a disability, then there will be extra considerations that need to be made. For help with complex issues, speak with an HRRev consultant about your situation: +44 (0) 203 538 5311.

  1. Always hold return-to-work discussions

After any period of absence, whether it’s two days or two months, there should be a return-to-work discussion between the individual and the line manager. It’s important that you establish the reason for the absence, assess what you might be able to do to support that person back into work, and follow the procedures outlined in your policy.

We know in today’s workplace schedules are busy, but making sure these discussions are scheduled into the diary and carried out correctly can help prevent a whole load of potential issues.

  1. Think about how you can make reasonable adjustments to get employees back into their roles

Coming back to work after a period of absence can be daunting. What can you do to make the process more manageable? It might be the case that you can slightly alter roles and responsibilities to encourage long-term absentees to come back to their jobs and ease themselves back into routine.

In practical terms, you could agree shorter working hours for the first couple of weeks, or ensure that the employee has a reduced workload. However, if you are unsure, talking to the individual in question may help establish a way forward that will assist them.

  1. Take a flexible approach to managing the rota

It’s always important to recognise that employees have a life outside of your business. They may want to attend a parents’ evening, go and see their favourite band, or take care of serious matters such illness of a family member or relative. If they are forced to choose between missing out and calling in sick, then you aren’t always going to win!

Ask yourself whether it would be feasible, from an operational point of view, to add some flexibility into how working schedules are managed. From time to time, could you allow employees to swap shifts, or catch up with their work later in the week? As long as you have firm boundaries in place, this kind of approach could help you minimise problems.

If absence is an issue in your business, then the bad news is that you probably won’t make improvements overnight. You need a considered and careful approach, and it’ll certainly be a learning curve. But when you get it right, the benefits will be huge.

Need help in preparing a manageable action plan so you know exactly what you need to do?Download our FREE guide below to Sickness and Absence Management, or our FREE key features guide to the breatheHR cloud-based software system, designed to take the hard work out of managing your employees and tame your HR chaos!