Eleven billion reasons to be business focused

Paul Robertson’s letters (5 August) questioning the "reliability of
doctor diagnosis on fitness to work" provoked much response from readers.
Can we trust the word of a doctor? Is it so easy for patients to mislead a
doctor? Do our employees ‘bunk off’ with the added support of a doctor’s
certificate? And to make things worse, according to numerous press reports,
record temperatures across the UK last month brought a huge rise in ‘sicky’
dial-a-days for sunbathers.

With this growing trend and scale, why do so many believe that not enough is
being done to minimise absenteeism. I believe there are three inhibitors:

– The Fear Factor (a stick with no carrot)

Do we truly understand our duty of care as an employer in terms of the
impact of the Disability Discrimination Act, health and safety at work and
environmental legislation? Do we truly know when we can terminate an employment
contract following sickness related incidents? And if that’s not enough to
scare you, there’s plenty of other legislation and reports, such as the one
from the TUC which points out that workers exposed to stress for half their
working lives are 25 per cent more likely to die from a heart attack.

– Management

How many line managers are adequately briefed to be able to tackle an
alleged offender? How many managers rely on HR to tackle this welfare type role
when fears of personal litigation hang over their heads?

– Human Resources

At a basic level, HR needs to provide sufficient management information on
attendance, sick records, trend analysis and benchmarks. This requires common
processes, organisation and technology readily accessible by line managers. At
a business partner level, HR has to coach and equip managers with the necessary
skills to address this people issue and measure company performance in this
critical area of attendance management. And let’s not forget the cause of
absenteeism rather than just the effect itself.

So is there a carrot? It’s not surprising there is a reluctance to tackle
this sensitive problem head on with such a stick to beat management back. And
yet there is a huge carrot for those who can get to grips with the growing
trend that the average UK worker has 7 days sick leave per year. A recent
survey estimated that absence from work costs British organisations £11bn every
year, or 9 per cent of annual salary costs.

With an £11bn prize at stake, this is a classic example where HR could truly
act as the business partner that it aspires to be. It is a great opportunity to
add significant, and measurable value to an organisation’s bottom line.

If it needs help, HR could always outsource the basics, freeing it up to
focus on this strategic issue.

By Alan Bailey

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