Innes Clark: Managing presenteeism is essential

Innes Clark. Picture: Contributed
Innes Clark. Picture: Contributed
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THE publication of the annual CIPD Absence Management survey normally casts a spotlight on the impact of sick days on business.

But this year the focus is squarely on tackling over-zealous working cultures that result in “presenteeism” – employees turning up to work when they are not well. Managers might contend that sickness is out of their hands, but few can argue that point when workers continue to turn up in spite of their deteriorating health.

There are stark warnings for organisations whose cultures of long hours lead to systemic presenteeism. According to the CIPD, such cultures risk sparking mental health or stress-related illnesses amongst their workforce.

Those who best manage sickness are those who understand the data and identify the root causes. In that respect, absence management is a component part of protecting a company’s best assets: its people. And that extends to the working culture it encourages.

Nevertheless, the CIPD also reports that absence levels are rising, albeit slowly. Stress remains one of the main causes for absence, suggesting many employers are not yet fully addressing this issue.

Management reporting can be hugely useful. For example, the Bradford Factor can be used to score absenteeism and highlight the disruption caused by short-term absences. This is an example of how successful data management can provide strategic insights. The Lost Time Rates formula is also used to measure the cost in working days of illness and injury in the workforce.

But effective use of such data is just as important as collating it in the first place. Ensuring that figures and insights are circulated to relevant management teams on a regular basis is key. Other tools in the armoury include return-to-work interviews and formal procedures and warnings to manage absence. Medical advice should also be sought where appropriate.

What is now clear, however, is that management of absence should be coupled with health promotion and a strategy on employee wellbeing. Any attempt to proactively address absenteeism should be welcomed. However, care must be taken to avoid a catch-all approach to absence data. The CIPD’s attempts to benchmark absence is to be applauded – but it’s now up to Scottish businesses to assess the implications for them.

• Innes Clark, partner and employment law specialist, Morton Fraser LLP