Beating absenteeism

employees to balance their work and home lives is one way to reduce staff
absence, writes Caroline Horn

and poor time-keeping cost UK business nearly £12bn in 2002, with around
£1.75bn of that due to staff ‘pulling sickies’. While figures from the CBI show
the number of lost working days (166 million) is down on previous years, rising
labour costs mean that businesses continue to pay heavily for absenteeism.

have used a number of tools to help reduce absenteeism, from ‘back to work’
interviews, to giving senior managers responsibility for absence management.
While effective, these measures have not necessarily tackled the main causes of
absenteeism, and a more sophisticated management approach could produce better
long-term results.

in People (IiP) has recently launched a Work-life Balance Model that could help
address some of the issues behind absenteeism, says chief executive Ruth
Spellman. "Management has to look after the workforce and ensure that it
is productive. Addressing issues such as maternity leave and flexible working
hours and putting proper processes in place will help," she says.

first step towards creating a work-life balance is to canvas opinion among
staff about what they would find useful, says Spellman. "Employees in a
city-based company might want a more flexible start-time, while women with
children might want a facility to leave early at the end of the day."

Council, a small district council, piloted the IiP’s Work-life Balance Model in
February to address the varied needs of its staff. After a process of
consultation, it adopted a range of measures, including a ‘flexitime’ scheme
and home-working. Mike Scott, head of HR at the council, says: "We have
benefited from higher staff retention and a more productive workforce."

number of employees taking sick leave and absenteeism generally have also been

number of companies that have applied the IiP’s Work-life Balance Model are
starting to see benefits in these areas, but many are also reporting broader
business benefits. Mark Holt-Rogers, product development director of
Businesshealth Group – which provides employee health programmes – says its
main aim is to match the needs of staff to the business. He says a more
flexible working environment will help morale, but should also make the
business more effective.

Rabjohns Business & Tax Advisors, which provides advice to local
businesses, established flexible working patterns in 2002, but used the
Work-life Balance Model to evaluate the success of these. It found the
workforce was more prepared to be flexible, and that this resulted in a number
of business benefits. For example, one of its ‘front-of-house’ team was able to
open the office earlier, benefiting customers who could visit before their
business day began.  

flexible working hours and people working from home does bring benefits to the
organisation, but there needs to be very clear guidelines and mutual
respect," says Jacqui Henderson, executive director of the Learning &
Skills Council, London Central.

emphasises that any new system must be clearly communicated to employees.
"Like every contract, you have to set it up properly with realistic
expectations," she says.

Inn, a 190-room hotel in Belfast, had approached work-life balance on an ad-hoc
basis before introducing the Work-life Balance Model earlier this year. Now it
has a systematic approach to flexible working, including a new shift system.

company is proactive in communicating with staff – letting them know what they
are entitled to and letting senior management know what should be possible.

flexible shifts and improved communication, staff no longer need to resort to
absenteeism when they need time off, says Michelle Hagan, personnel and
training manager. "We have boosted morale and improved retention,"
she adds.

study: Rebecca Massingberd, HR director

Group plc operates car showrooms that sell and repair Audi Volkswagens across
the UK.

often needed to work long hours to fit in with customer needs, and this
impacted upon the punctuality of staff. While absenteeism was not a significant
problem, it did incur heavy costs; if a technician called in sick, his
customers for that day would have to be cancelled.

director Rebecca Massingberd felt a formal structure was needed to help
employees establish the right harmony between life at home and at work, and to
help avoid the need for staff to work seven days a week during busy periods. A
flexible working system would also help make the company a local employer of

period of consultation established that workers wanted to have more time to
spend with their families, although their needs varied – some wanted to start
work later to drop their children off at school in the mornings, while others
needed to stay late to deal with customers.

measures have now been introduced, including flexible working, job-sharing and
attendance bonuses. Flexible hours mean staff can be flexible with time outside
their core hours, and can also accrue time off, while the attendance bonus has
helped the company reduce sporadic ‘sick leave’ days, says Massingberd. Staff
are also more prepared to multi-skill to cover for other employees during

company is currently evaluating the impact that flexible working has had on
other areas, such as retention and morale.

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