Are you staff well enough to be at work?

Now I am normally more on the case of “staff should maintain regular and consistent attendance at work” and don’t get me wrong that is still one of the fundamentals of the employment contract but let’s take a second to consider the times when someone drags them self into work when they should really be at home in bed.  A survey by employee benefits and insurance provider Personal Group, in collaboration with online doctor service videoDoc, recently found that the average employee worked for more than four days per year when they were genuinely ill. 52% delayed getting medical advice because they didn’t want to take time away from the office, and interestingly, women reported feeling a bigger pressure to turn up to work when in pain or suffering from an illness.

At first glance, statistics like these can seem to demonstrate that employees are loyal. They don’t want to let your or their colleagues down. They don’t want to make a fuss. They want to ensure that they get their work done and make their contribution to the bottom line.

It’s true that the root cause can be based in positive feelings, but in reality, it can be a serious problem. So, what happens when someone comes to work who is ill, their productivity is likely to suffer, their morale can go through the floor, and there’s quite often the risk of illnesses being passed, via the lovely aircon system, to other workers, which amplifies the problem.

And of course, we need to remember that as an employer, you’ve got a duty of care. If you have a workplace culture that frowns upon taking time off – even when it’s for genuine reasons – then you’ve got a problem on your hands. Ultimately, it can lead to lower retention rates, higher costs, and a damaged employer brand.


So, what can you do about it? Here are some areas that you might want to consider…


  • Take about Attendance and not Absence

It is a word, but you will be amazed what a difference it can make, taking about attendance, the being at work, rather than absence, the not being at work.  Let your staff know that you will support them not punish them with genuine reasons.  Do your staff know what they should do if they need to attend a medical or dental appointment during working hours? Managing things on a case-by-case basis can cause problems, and it’s important that all members of staff know what the provisions are.


  • How easy is it to phone in sick?

If your ‘Absence’ reporting is simply phoning to say “I’m sick” end of conversation or even worse they just send a text, then be prepared for it being abused. However, if you ask some more detailed question about the reason for the absence, what they are doing to support their recovery, have they got a doctor’s appointment and when do they think they will be back, you start to make the “taking a sickie” a little bit harder. If someone is genuinely ill, they can and will answer the questions with ease.


  • Conduct a back to work meeting every time

It is important that employees know that during their time out of the office they were missed and that you care that they are better and ready to be back in the business. Some members of staff may feel anxious or worried about the prospect of returning to work after a period of illness, even if it’s only a few days. Make sure that you’re carrying out back-to-work meetings, so you can bring your employee up to speed, and they know that they’ll be supported.


  • Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it not there

If someone is suffering from the flu, that’s often pretty obvious. Many other issues though, such as stress and depression, can sometimes be hidden. Make sure that your agenda and policies are inclusive, and also tackle the areas which are less black and white.


  • Lead by example

Listen, we completely understand that you’re a busy leader with work to do. But if you’re seen showing up at the office when you’re quite clearly unwell, it’s sending the wrong message about what’s expected. Learn to recognise when taking a break is the best option.


Moving to an Attendance Culture and battling presenteeism isn’t an overnight thing, and there are rarely quick fixes. It requires a shift in culture, and good practice being encouraged and supported over a longer period of time. Still though, it’s an important issue, and it deserves a place on your agenda.

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