Every one a winner?

The Royal Mail has delivered some good news in the past weeks, claiming that an innovative employee lottery scheme is responsible for a drastic reduction in staff absenteeism levels.

The organisation says postmen and women’s attendance rose by almost 11% in the last six months of 2004 compared with the same period the previous year. 

This, it says, is down in no small part to an initiative that saw employees with good attendance records entered into a prize draw to win new cars and holiday vouchers.

As result, the postal giant’s performance has also improved, according to Tony McCarthy, Royal Mail’s people and operational development director, with 91% of first-class letters arriving the day after posting – the organisation’s best figures in a decade.

But while new cars and free holidays make the headlines, the Communications Worker’s Union, which represents postal workers, says there are more traditional reasons for the company’s improvements.

The Union says in the past 18 months, pay for postal room and delivery staff has risen an average of 18%, while the number of hours worked has been scaled down. A postman is now only required to work five days a week, rather than six.

“Offering better pay and conditions is the only way to improve staff attendance in the long-term,” said a union spokesperson. “With better pay and less hours, staff are less inclined to ‘throw a sickie’.” 

This point is picked up by Ben Willmott, an employee relations advisor at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. 

He says an employee lottery scheme will only be effective if it is implemented as part of managed holistic approach to reducing absenteeism.

Willmott points to other initiatives introduced by Royal Mail as the real reason why staff are making it into work more often.

He says the company has invested in line-manager training, aimed at helping them to identify problems with absenteeism earlier and has made occupational health professionals and stress counsellors readily available to employees.

“It has brought in a package that provides support, action and incentives for employees,” He says.

“If anything, the lottery scheme can be seen as a way of raising the profile of the problem of absenteeism and saying to staff ‘tackling this is a priority’.”

And it does seem that few businesses see staff lotteries as a legitimate way of reigning in the work-shy. Recent CIPD research shows only 15% of companies use staff lotteries, whereas regular return to work interviews, management training and disciplinary measures are all deemed to be more effective ways of controlling absenteeism.

But if companies are thinking of mimicking the Royal Mail and setting up a lottery scheme of their own there are, according to Laura Fleming, an advisor at HR consultancy training, a number of legal considerations to bear in mind.

Fleming says that companies must factor in maternity and disability rights and not exclude staff from any prizes draws because they have taken time off from work that they are legally due.

“If part of the reasonable adjustment an employer makes is time off for treatment then an allowance must be made, or a company could find itself faced with charges of discrimination,” she says.

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