This week’s letters

Does ‘sick pay’ encourage staff to take time off work?

In our experience, paying sick pay
does not encourage sickness (News, 25 May).

In recent years, we have surveyed 15,000 staff across many
sectors, and asked: ‘Have you ever used sick leave to deal with an issue
outside of work?’ Approximately 87 per cent said ‘yes’. But then we asked what
help could an employer provide to prevent this? The answer in 97 per cent of
cases was ‘more flexible working’. We asked: ‘Have you ever considered leaving
your employer?’, and 96 per cent said ‘yes’ – and that they would stay if they
had more flexibility.

Sick pay doesn’t increase sickness. It just allows it to happen
in an environment where staff are not empowered or able to have the flexibility
they require to do a good job and deal with life issues too.

The root cause of the rise in sickness absence has more to do
with poor cultures and poor people management. One organisation we worked with
introduced three (paid) days a year for all employees to use for emergencies.
After one year, sickness absence had reduced by 85 per cent, and attrition from
18 per cent to just under 4 per cent.

Three years on, it has introduced more emergency days and
reduced absence even further. This is an organisation that knows people come to
work to do a good job, and if the right environment is in place, people will
not take advantage of it.

Not paying for sick leave is a short-term time bomb that will
increase attrition and stress, and reduce trust. What a backward step and a
short-term stupidity. When people are genuinely ill, they will come in to work,
spread their germs and infect a wider workforce. If they are not ill but taking
time off for family or an emergency, then the organisation is merely adding to
the stress.

Ninety-seven per cent of staff go to work to do a good job.
They don’t wake up in the morning with the deliberate thought of screwing
things up for their employer. But do organisations manage for them, or the
remaining percentage? Their performance management should be improved, rather
than punishing the majority.

You can probably tell that I am incensed by this action, but I
see the other side of the coin, and just how much you can increase productivity
by letting people work to their full potential. I suggest that leaders are
measured on sick days, and for every day lost, they should personally pay. They
should have targets to improve culture, thereby reducing absence. That would be
much better than penalising the employees who have to work in their poor

Lynne Copp
Managing director, The Worklife Company

Banning sick pay is not the only solution

Plans to withhold sick pay for the first three days of absence (News, 25
May) have been applauded by industry, yet received cautiously by experts. It’s
certainly one way of stamping out unauthorised absence, but by no means the
only way.

Take a closer look at unauthorised absence, and you will find that it
typically falls into two categories: planned, and unplanned. How many employees
are already arranging a sudden migraine attack to coincide with the England v
Switzerland match on 17 June, or a dodgy appendix for the post-match hangover?

Employers in many sectors, particularly where staff work shifts, are
adopting a more flexible approach to staff scheduling, whereby employees are
able to plan their absence by stating a preference to not work on certain days
or shifts, or organise their absence as part of a flexitime system.

A 21st century scheduling system can adequately cope with such flexibility.
Employers are benefiting from a reduction in absence levels with fewer
employees feeling the need to throw a ‘sickie’, and employees are enjoying the
flexibility of a system that allows them to plan time off without eating into
annual leave entitlement.

Keith Statham
Managing director, Kronos Systems

Real accountability is the way forward

In my wanderings this week, I happened upon a copy of The Asian Wall Street
Journal and found an article that I believe may be the beginnings of a new
trend – ‘real’ accountability for HR people.

A certain Frank Z Ashen, formerly HR director of the New York Stock Exchange
(NYSE), was reported (26 May 2004) to have turned the US equivalent of ‘Queen’s
Evidence’ in the case against the former chairman of the NYSE, Dick Grasso.

Ashen acknowledged that he might have provided "inaccurate, incomplete
and misleading" information about his boss’s pay to the exchanges
compensation committee. He has also agreed to return £1.3m of his salary as

Wow. Now there’s accountability.

Can we expect to see this develop fully throughout industry and commerce?
Will we read of HR directors being sacked alongside the sales director because
they failed to deliver the development of the sales team to reach the company
targets? Will we see the resignation of the personnel manager because the
senior recruitment exercise they oversaw recruited a crook for the finance
director position?

Will we see restitution out of the HR director’s salary because the employee
attitude survey suggested the company wasn’t anywhere near the published vision
in terms of the way they were being managed?

I could go on and on (in fact, I might patent a board game or a reality TV
show). But perhaps this is what the function needs to give it an edge in its
efforts to gain that board seat.

Les Simpson
Operations director, JMPS

PC lunatics infiltrate Hertfordshire police

I always knew there was a risk of ‘PC’ lunatics taking over the asylum, but
never in my worst nightmares did I think they would target the police.

Hertfordshire Police’s diversity training (Features, 1 June) epitomises
everything that’s wrong with HR today. An ill-defined (possibly non-existent)
problem, which is then misdiagnosed, with no business focus or observable line
of sight to any benefits, followed by a ridiculous attempt to change years of
in-built attitudes through a one-day programme.

Surely diversity is only important to the police if a lack of it has
resulted in less effective policing? Will the good citizens of Hertfordshire
walk their streets more safely in the knowledge that someone in their local
force felt inclined to write poetry as a result of their diversity training
day? This is not HR.

Paul Kearns
Director, PWL

Unhealthy staff must be rewarded at work

I believe that if people are fit and well, this is reward in itself, and
that it would be a retrograde step to put policies in place that may lead to
financial hardship for some people, while forcing them to go to work when they
are unwell.

I am a registered nurse, and I know that, regrettably, some people are more
prone to illness than others. They sometimes have to cope with some loss of
self-image and self-esteem caused by their illness, and they cope admirably.
Perhaps when they manage to organise their lives around their illness and still
manage to go to work for most of the time, they should be rewarded. Going to
work is no problem when your health is good.

However, if a change in policy is intended to deal with those that may be
taking time off for spurious reasons, it seems an awful shame to treat the
genuinely ill in the same way. Questions should be asked as to why people don’t
want to be at work.

I believe that if the culture of the organisation fits with the values of
the individual, and if an appropriate and fair attendance management policy is
in place, then only those who are genuinely ill will feel the need to take time
off work.

I get paid when I am off sick, and I often come to work when I don’t feel
too good because I feel ‘guilty’. I know that there must be lots of others who feel
as I do.

Is there a danger that if people don’t get paid for the first three days of
absence that there may be a rebound and more people may take time off? The
issue raises a lot of questions, not least that of trust, and I prefer to
believe that the vast majority of people can be trusted to use their judgement
as to whether or not they are fit for work.

For those who genuinely don’t want to be at work, little difference can be
made either way.

I actually enjoy coming to work, and that’s because as employees, we are
well cared for and feel valued by our employer.

Kate Haynes
Total quality and consumer relations manager, Beiersdorf UK

NHS director proves theory of ‘affiliation’

With reference to the letter about promotions through affiliation being rife
in HR (Letters, 25 May), it does seem that the higher a position you have in HR
the less need there is for you to have an HR qualification.

By coincidence, you featured the HR director for the NHS in your ‘Ear to the
ground’ section in Guru in the same edition.

The NHS is the largest employer in the UK, and its HR director doesn’t
appear to hold a CIPD or HR qualification – or any operational HR experience,
for that matter. So how important is it to be professionally qualified?

I believe it is essential, and I value my chartered membership (by
qualification) of the CIPD. But clearly not every organisation holds that view,
and that can be frustrating for mid-career professionals, and demoralising for
HR practitioners early in their careers.

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