Attendance Management

by Kate Russell

Consider prevention as well as cure

One of the most cost-effective ways of managing attendance is to try to prevent employees from being absent by tackling the underlying causes of absence in the first place.

If employees are motivated, interested in their work, feel that they are being fairly and equitably treated and fairly rewarded, that their organisation is a good place to work and they have a sense of involvement, they are less likely to be absent.

There will always be some employees whose absence is unsatisfactory and whose attendance needs to be closely managed, but the incidences will decrease with good preventative action.

Some absence will be outside management’s control, but levels of absence can be reduced when positive policies are introduced to improve working conditions and increase employees’ motivation to attend work.

Consider taking the following steps:

  • Investigating how to improve physical working conditions
  • Offering healthy options in staff restaurants and at meetings
  • Initiatives to promote a healthier workforce
  • Taking ergonomic factors into account when designing workplaces
  • Ensuring that health and safety standards are maintained
  • Giving new starters, especially young people, sufficient training and ensuring that they receive particular attention during the initial period of their work
  • Wherever possible, designing jobs so that they give motivation and provide job satisfaction; jobs should provide variety, discretion, responsibility, contact with other people, feedback, some challenge and have clear goals
  • Examining training, career development and promotion policies, communication procedures and welfare provision to see if they can be improved
  • Making sure policies on equal opportunities and discrimination are fair and observed
  • Making sure supervisory training is adequate, and supervisors take an interest in their employees’ health and welfare
  • Making confidential counselling services available for employees
  • Introducing flexible working hours or varied working arrangements, if this would assist employees without conflicting with production or other work demands
  • Encouraging people to take their holidays.

Where permanent health insurance and healthcare schemes are offered, ensure that these benefits are not withdrawn at the age of 60 or 65 (this is when the premiums tend to rise significantly). This will be direct discrimination under the Age Discrimination legislation. It is unlikely that a tribunal would accept the withdrawal of a benefit if cost alone is used as justification.

Case study

Catering firm Brakes Group supplies food to the catering industry in the UK and France. It has more than 7,000 employees in 70 locations. A new programme was introduced to cover approximately 4,500 operational employees, principally in warehouse and driving jobs. The nature of the company’s activities meant that the absence of staff such as drivers was felt immediately and cover would be required at short notice.

Brakes decided to change its approach to managing absence early in 2005. Absence was running at about six per cent before the programme started.

The company has outsourced the recording and management of routine unplanned absence. Absent employees now call Brakes Healthline, a nurse-based helpline run by Active Health Partners. There is someone available on the Healthline 24 hours a day. The nurse discusses the absence and arranges a follow-up at a pre-agreed time with the employee to offer medical advice and support. Included in the discussion is an estimate as to when the employee is likely to be back at work. The nurse informs the line manager and manages the absence from this point.

Employees benefit from easy access to a free, confidential health advice. Brakes Group’s management team will have access to online information from a central database, enabling them to understand issues and measure the impact of health and safety improvement initiatives. This means that line managers can concentrate on managing attendance when a trigger mechanism suggests there may be a problem.

The scheme appears to be successful, with absence figures down to around 3.5 per cent.