Question: I manage a small team in an accountancy firm. As you can imagine, this is a busy time of the year for us, but it is the time when people end up going off sick, with flu and other illnesses. It can be devastating to a small team, especially when someone phones in sick in the morning. Can you give me advice on getting cover at short notice and on how to plan for this in the future?
Answer: Absence can be disruptive at work, particularly when a team is already stretched. It is important to consider both the solutions and the underlying causes in the short, medium and long term, from a tactical and strategic perspective.
Analyse the data
While it comes naturally to you to analyse data in your day-to-day role, perhaps you have not done the same regarding this issue. Based on the attendance data for last year, it may be possible to identify days when absences are most likely. For example, is there an increased level of absence on certain days of the week, or following particularly busy periods? Having access to this information may allow you to take a more strategic approach to your contingency worker solutions.
At a tactical level, it may be useful to review the process by which employees notify you of an absence. The sooner you are aware of an issue, the better equipped you are to deal with the gap. Requesting employees to contact HR or their manager prior to the commencement of the working day is unlikely to have a negative impact upon the ill employee but can provide you with additional time to source a temporary replacement or distribute the employee’s work schedule for that day.
Cross-train your employees
Cross-training your employees and ensuring that work can be easily redistributed among the team can provide short-term relief when deadlines are tight. While it is often necessary to have specialists in each area, colleagues should be able to provide brief updates, access relevant information, and prevent the breakdown of a task or project in the case of an absence. This allows employees an insight into the overall work of the team, as well as providing a more varied and interesting workload.
Engage a contingency recruitment provider
It may be necessary at times to outsource the provision of temporary contract workers when required at very short notice. Specialist organisations, including Collins McNicholas Recruitment and HR Services Group, can provide suitably screened candidates with appropriate skills and experience at short notice.
Short-term work can be of interest to employees who are hoping to build their experience, are phasing their return to the workplace, or enjoy a high level of flexibility in their work. The recruitment solution provider will often provide payroll and contract management solutions, as well as access to a skilled workforce.
Identify the underlying causes
While you mention seasonal illness as a key cause of absence, it may be of interest to investigate the underlying causes more deeply. For example, conducting an engagement survey within your team or the organisation may reveal more complex reasons underlying the absences. Employees who are unengaged or actively disengaged are more likely to have a high level of absenteeism than those who report that they are committed to their organisation’s goals and values.
Develop an employee wellness programme
Providing a programme may improve their engagement levels, and their overall physical and emotional resilience. Many organisations are now providing a structured approach to mental and physical health. From your question, it appears that absence increases as work demands become higher and stress levels rise. Providing your team with coping skills such as mindfulness and meditation may help them to prevent stress-related illnesses. Eating well, taking regular breaks, and exercise are also essential to developing a good work-life balance and warding off sickness.
This article was originally published in the business section of The Sunday Independent on Sunday, 19th of November 2017. To see the original article please click here.
Senior Occupational Psychology Consultant