With the Six Nations tournament now underway there is plenty of Rugby chat among 'armchair managers' in pubs up and down the country.

HR Managers may not care too much about rugby. However, wise ones will keep a watchful eye on the Sunday fixtures.

Why are some HR pundits predicting Rugby -v- HR during the Six Nations? Simple, HR teams recognise that absenteeism spikes around major sporting tournaments, even if key matches have weekend fixtures.

In England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland a big drinking culture accompanies international games. A Sunday match usually means an increase in 'Sickie Mondays'. Meanwhile, Saturday games are prone to 'Ferry Fridays' as fans sneak off early with a 'mystery virus' to travel to the game. It is an oft-reported anecdotal challenge for HR Managers that remains largely unaddressed.

As a passionate rugby fan, I will be watching the games but will also be keeping an eye out for the absence challenges it raises for my HR customers. Here is my advice for HR departments during the tournament:

1. Be aware and plan accordingly

HR should keep an eye on sporting fixtures, carefully allocate staff resources and prepare for possible absences in advance.

2. Make sure you have a clear absence policy

The single most important step HR can take is to make staff aware of your policy on sickness absence. More than half of employed adults believe their work performance is negatively impacted when attendance policies are not fairly enforced throughout an organisation, so make sure it is enforced among management as well as staff.

3. Educate your staff

Staff often do not realise that short term absence has a big impact on the company's bottom line and is more disruptive to the business than long term sickness. Raising awareness via the Bradford Factor encourages them to book planned annual leave days rather than a ‘sickie’. You could also ask rugby fans if they want to book Friday or Monday off (subtly letting them know that you are aware of the fixtures!)

4. Use return-to-work forms and interviews

Often sporting event sickies come from the same regular offenders.

However, if they haven't had to complete a return to work self-certification form, or had a return to work interview it's difficult to take action. Inaction sets an example to the rest of your workforce, too.

The self-certification forms are one of the most important steps you can take in reducing both short and long term absence, and should be followed with a non-judgemental return to work interview on every occasion.

The process enables you to quickly:

  • welcome employees back,
  • check they are well enough to return to work,
  • identify the cause of the absence,
  • find out whether they have a disability (including invisible ones like asthma, diabetes, epilepsy etc.),
  • gently explore any early signs of stress,
  • identify if the absence has any work related cause,
  • highlight any health and safety issues.
Keeping accurate records of forms and interview notes is also vital so you can identify patterns of absence.

Once a pattern is identified (and smart absence management tools can identify these for you using trigger point alerts), you can take action.

Sometimes a timely word from a line manager early on can prevent a pattern escalating into a major discipline problem involving unions, HR and legal teams – most of the time, early intervention is all that is needed.

5. Get rid of spreadsheets and paper forms!

Spreadsheets and paper forms create more problems than they solve and have a bad track record for storing HR information. They are prone to error and offer no reportability. Some accounts packages allow you to record information, but again, they create a dependency on HR for information, which means in practice that by the time HR get involved, there is already a big problem.

Cloud based absence management solutions are usually designed to empower line managers and they enable access of information throughout the business. Some software solutions also have a full return to work process built in.

By Adrian Lewis, Commercial Director of Activ Absence