By Max Clarke

On Tuesday, Fresh Business Thinking ran an article quoting figures published by PwC, suggesting that 1 in 3 workers admit to lying about their absence. Absence management specialists FirstCare have responded to the report, deeming it ”alarming, worrying and misleading”, as the company’s Chief Executive, Aaron Ross explains”

It’s very easy to interpret this statement as 1 in 3 absence are not genuine; a significant figure indeed. But this simply is not true. If the statement is rewritten to explicitly convey the underlying principle it becomes more realistic, however perhaps a little less headline worthy.

1 in 3 people may have at some point lied about the true reason for a particular absence. But in terms of days lost due to sickness absence this is just a tip of the ice-berg. An employee, or even 33% of all employees taking a single day off every three years ‘illegitimately’ is totally insignificant compared with the problem of legitimate absence.

Focusing on one day ‘sickies’ and skivers is by far the route of least resistance for many HR departments, but will have no more than a marginal effect on the company’s overall absence rate.

The bigger wins are to be had from targeting rapid intervention and rehabilitation for long term and persistent absences and supporting employees.

But to do this you need robust, accurate, real time data; this is where most organisations fall down. Even with advanced IT/Payroll software the data out is only ever going to be as good as the data in; both employees and managers are rarely incentivised to ensure accurate data capture, particularly if they are being measured against it.

For the majority of companies, the responsibility for managing absenteeism falls directly to an employee’s immediate supervisor. Although this may seem a logical step often these people have not received any guidance or training in managing absenteeism, subsequently a lack of a linear process can mean these supervisors are often the only people who are aware that a certain employee is absent.

This traditional style of absent management is clearly fraught with difficulties, namely that individuals within HR departments can be left on their own to carry out the often unpopular task of identifying, confronting and tackling all absence issues. It is clearly a huge task for any HR team member to be burdened with, especially when it is understood that low employee morale is the inevitable consequence of absence management being addressed in an inconsistent manner.

The most important aspect of absence management is to ensure that all subjectivity is taken away. It is absolutely vital that any process is consistent, transparent and fair to all.


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