A…Is for Attendance Management

And boy is it proving hard to manage at the moment…(but that’s another story)…

What springs to mind when you think of attendance management? Maybe you think it’s about managing sickness absence (and in small part, it is!) but in my experience, there are a few layers to it that collectively, are aligned to solve the question ‘how can managing employee attendance maximise employee productivity’?

Attendance Management at a Strategic Level

Although the ‘big picture’ attendance management strategy may be built around the question ‘what can we do to maximise employee attendance at organisation level’ on the basis that optimum attendance increases productivity, which in turn, increases revenue, it’s more complex than that. We’re beginning to realise that being at work more doesn’t necessarily equate to an increase in productivity. In fact, there’s evidence that workers can produce just as much in fewer hours.

To answer the question, HR leaders will be analysing and measuring the impact of the organisation’s culture, ways of working, policies, types of leave, eligibility criteria, benefits and allowances on employee behaviour.

For example, could an increase in holiday pay result in improved employee wellbeing and productivity and in turn, reduce absence? Could a period of paid bereavement leave and flexible working encourage an earlier, supported return to work and prevent a grieving employee from going off sick? Just because employees are putting in long hours, could they be just as productive, if not more productive in less?

There’s only one way to find out…To do your research, present your business case and trial it…

I’ve found it interesting (although maybe unsurprising!) that employee sickness levels are often lowest during an employee’s first six months of employment. If you ask employees why they think that is, they will often say it’s because they are focused on passing their probationary period. That’s evidence that the probationary period makes them behave differently, but is that behaviour something to be encouraged? In my experience, it can sometimes paint a false picture.

What’s actually happening here? Does the probationary period compel employees to come in to work when it might be better for them to stay at home and get well sooner? How productive are they really going to be if they feel dreadful and who might they be spreading their germs to? By continuing to work, could they actually end up having to take more time off sick?

I’ve worked with employers who have actively moved away from the traditional probationary period route, and guess what, the world did not collapse. We were still able to support employees and monitor and measure performance (including attendance) in that time, managers were still able to provide performance feedback and, when all else failed, we still had the ability to manage poor performance and terminate employment if necessary.

So we’re back to that ‘big picture’ attendance management strategy. What are the organisation’s values and objectives? Does it understand the link between organisational behaviours and individual behaviours? Does it value presenteeism over productivity? By giving more, can your people achieve more? And importantly, have you done your research and do you have the data to support the decisions you’re making?

Attendance Management at a Divisional/Department Level

To maximise employee attendance at a divisional/department level, HR will be partnering with, and upskilling managers, answering questions and offering advice and guidance to them around the practical application of policies and procedures and how to manage particular concerns.

HR will probably be producing reports and data dashboards that measure attendance and non-attendance, assessing how individual departments compare with each other and working with managers to analyse trends, understand the nature and scale of any issue identified and consider initiatives to manage absence within appetite.

Part and parcel of nurturing a healthy work environment is the wellness strategy. What can we do to support employees? For sickness alone, HR will need to ensure that managers are skilled to manage short-term intermittent sickness and long-term absences. They’ll also be trying to normalise return to work conversations, helping managers and employees feel more comfortable talking about the impact of absence, both on the individual and the wider business and looking to find solutions for the benefit of both parties.

Employee relations is important here and HR will be working with managers to engender a culture of positive employee relations. Prevention is always better than the cure in my opinion. Breakdowns in communication and claims of unfair or discriminatory treatment can and often do lead to employers’ actions being scrutinised at tribunal. A good HR advisor will be worth their weight in gold to their employer, as they’ll be able to assess risk and advise on fair policies and strategies to manage sensitive absence conversations, saving employers fortunes in legal fees if they were to get it wrong.

Attendance Administration

At a transactional level, HR may still be doing some level of processing. The extent of such processing will depend on capability of the HR information systems they use. They could, for example, be producing absence reports, processing annual leave requests or updating a system with sickness start and end dates and reason codes.

In summary…

Investing time and resources in the creation of effective systems and controls around attendance management can pay real dividends, both for the business and its employees, but HR can’t deliver the benefits alone. There needs to be a commitment from senior leaders working both within and outside HR that they will all play their part in supporting the strategy, and that commitment needs to be embedded in the organisation culture and to every employee. That said, with the best will in the world, unplanned absences cannot be eradicated, but their impact can be lessened by managing them in constructive and meaningful ways.