While any manager would love a 100% attendance rate in their business, it’s an unlikely dream for most.
Managing sickness absence is an unfortunate fact of business life - projects have to get shelved, other employees have to take up the extra work, and calendars are jumbled up while everything gets shuffled around. One-off sick days and long-term medical conditions can both cause issues at any time.
Thankfully, we know a fair bit about absence from work (you'd hope so given we make software that tracks sick leave) and have found a few ways you can bring down the sickness rate in your office without making anyone miserable. Here are some of our favourite tips.
The working environment
Five days a week, you and your employees come to the same place and sit within a few feet of each other. A place conducive to good health and wellbeing is critical for your employees and your business. Important things to bear in mind are:
While open plan offices have their benefits, the noise levels that come with them can cause headaches, distractions, and even heightened stress levels. If some people work better without background noise, why not make a part of the office a quiet zone for them to enjoy? Bright lighting can cause problems too, so consider buying desk lamps as a way for people to control the light in their area.
Back pain, shoulder pain and repetitive strain injury are just a few of the problems that cost businesses millions of lost working days every year. A desk ergonomics audit and regular check-ups from an occupational health consultant are both great ideas to make sure that everyone is working in the best conditions.
Standing desks can help people work in comfort too, and you can buy kits to convert regular desks into standing desks fairly cheaply. Other bits of equipment that can help ease muscle strain include wrist rests and foot rests.
Air, temperature, and water
We’ve all experienced it: an office that’s too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter. Whilst keeping tabs on energy bills is important, the last thing you want is for staff to feel like they’re too uncomfortable to concentrate. Keep room temperature ambient throughout the year, and encourage staff to drink water as much as possible to stay hydrated.
Compliance with health and safety regulations
It’s important to get health and safety right the first time. If applicable, make sure that all staff have access to personal protective equipment (PPE) and that they know how to operate machinery safely and efficiently.
Flexible and remote work
If 2020 showed us anything, it’s that remote work, works. Not only does it give employees flexibility over their own schedule, it also banishes commute time which can often contribute to ill mental health. Whilst it doesn't work for everyone, if a job role needs only a laptop and internet connection, it's worth considering it as a long-term absence-prevention measure.
Often, an employee might be fine to work from home, but too unwell to complete a 3-hour round daily commute on top of sitting at a desk for 8 hours a day, coughing and sneezing. A flexible approach to sick days like this could save your company in the long term. It opens a dialogue around wellness and physical health, whilst also showing employees that you trust them to do their job, wherever they are.
This also allows your employee to get better in the comfort of their own home, and without risking any viruses spreading to other members of staff in the office.
As well as this, giving people the option to start later to avoid a stressful commute, or working around school times, can reduce the need for both stress-related leave and family emergencies. You should consider whether you need employees in the office on set hours each day, or whether you could take a more flexible approach. You may realise that it doesn’t matter where they are, or how they do it, as long as they get it done.
Culture fit - the right people in the right job
It all starts with hiring the right people.
Some thrive in high-pressure environments, while some prefer a quieter pace. Social preferences are different for everyone; introverts, while capable of being the life of the party, need alone time to recharge. So if you hire introverted types, are you giving them the space to relax? If not, their satisfaction and productivity may drop over time. The same goes for extroverts: are they getting restless in an office that’s too quiet?
It's also worth asking:
- Are your employees are being challenged enough?
- Are their career goals in line with those of the business?
- Does the social environment feel right?
Each of these issues can cause friction if they’re not addressed properly. Dissatisfaction and lack of motivation will increase the probability of employees taking extra time off or could even result in them looking to leave the company.
Mental health support in the workplace
Mental health is as important as physical health, and sometimes, it needs a bit of time and space to recover.
Thankfully, there's progress in this area, and companies are recognising the effect it has on the company’s bottom line.
The CIPD’s People Managers’ Guide to Mental Health is a great introduction to this important area. According to the guide:
"A Mind survey found that one in ten employees rated their current mental health as poor or very poor. Of these, 26% said this was due to problems at work and a further half said it was due to a combination of problems at work and outside of work; 40% said they had taken time off as a result. We have seen employers begin to act on mental health; however, only 49% of employees felt their employer supports their mental health – so there is still work to be done.”
The report suggests a number of ways that managers can support their employees, track absence and deal with it fairly and effectively. It's worth a look for any manager.