Try always to identify the root causes of absenteeism
According to Absolv Software Technologies, leading absenteeism management experts, absenteeism is currently costing South Africa the equivalent of three percent (3%) of GDP. This is an enormous amount of money which is being wasted daily in our workplaces.
What many employees do not seem to realise is that when they stay away there is a knock on effect and extra costs which the employer incurs. First of all there is the employee’s salary for the day but that is just the beginning:
- Either someone else has to be employed to stand in for the employee at extra cost; or
- Essential tasks are spread amongst the team; or
- The work simply doesn’t get done.
Absenteeism impacts directly on customer service and quality and can result in lost business. It also can be demoralising other employees who have to do the absent employee’s work – ultimately impacting on their productivity.
Knock-on costs of absenteeism are believed to be three times the actual pay of the absent employee. Absenteeism is very expensive!
It is also a good barometer of staff morale. People who are motivated and committed to their work and employer have to be really ill before they book off sick. On the other hand, if absenteeism and sick leave are not monitored and action is not taken against absentees, sick leave can turn into another form of ‘annual leave’ to be taken whether or not you are really ill!
Attendance / ‘wellness’ bonus
Some employers have reacted to this by introducing an attendance or ‘wellness’ bonus. If an employee does not take sick leave he is paid a bonus. This is not recommended. Why not? Well, in the first place, under common law and our labour law, an employee has a fundamental duty to be at work! Sick leave is for when you are sick!
If an employee is injured or genuinely sick, it is in neither the employer’s, nor the employee’s best interests for the employee to come to work. The employee might well infect others or be injured if working around moving machinery. Furthermore, it is unfair and demotivating to take away a bonus from someone who has been genuinely ill and who cannot attend work through no fault of his or her own.
If employees are not aligned with their organisation’s goals and are demotivated at work, you can bet that they are going to absent themselves. That is where leadership and performance management come into the equation.
Reasons for absence
People absent themselves from work for a variety of reasons and then claim sick leave in order to get paid. This is in effect fraud and it is a dismissible offence. The employer needs however, to investigate the reasons and of course, establish whether or not the employee is genuinely ill.
The first step is to examine the employee’s attendance record and establish whether there is a trend or pattern of absenteeism. For example, absence usually occurs before and after weekends and public holidays, after paydays or on a particular day of the week.
A point of caution, an employee’s absenteeism is usually accompanied by sick leave abuse, poor performance, poor timekeeping, unsafe acts, unsociable behaviour at work, family problems and financial difficulties, including the serving of garnishee orders on the employer. Look for a pattern.
Confront the absentee
If a pattern becomes apparent, the next step is to confront the employee to establish why he or she has taken to absenting themselves from work. The best way to do this is to show concern and to suggest that it would appear from the sick leave taken that the employee is heading for a serious ill health problems.
In order to get to the bottom of this, suggest that the correct course of action will be for the employee to undergo a medical evaluation to establish his/her fitness to work.
From our experience, the mere act of confronting employees is often enough to put an end to a lot of Monday/Friday absence. For example, in one instance, an employee who had regularly taken his 10 days sick leave per annum did not take another day’s sick leave for the next two years after being confronted!
If the employee agrees to undergo a medical, the employer should pay for this, conditional upon the employee agreeing for the results to be made known to the employer. If this is agreed, the employee should be sent to an occupational health doctor for examination.
The doctor should be supplied with a job description and a description of the physical conditions and pressures of the job. The results of the medical will reveal whether or not the employee is genuinely ill. If the employee is ill, the early detection of illness might well be a life saver. It is also likely to reduce medical and sick leave costs in the longer term.
If the results of the medical reveal that the employee is not genuinely ill, then one need to establish what else could be the cause. For example, an employee who is in debt may absent himself after payday in order to avoid loan sharks from whom he has borrowed money! Likewise, an employee with a substance abuse problem may absent himself from work because he is suffering a hangover. A wife who is being abused will absent herself to avoid questions over injuries.
The best way to deal with personal problems giving rise to absenteeism or unsatisfactory performance is to offer the employee professional counselling. If the employee agrees, the real problem will usually emerge and can be dealt with by way of rehabilitative treatment or counselling (e.g. for alcoholism).
If an employee has a personal or substance abuse problem, only the employee can deal with it. If the employee chooses to face the problem, it can be overcome. If not, the pattern of absenteeism and unsatisfactory performance and minor misconduct will continue, regardless of disciplinary action (and deduction of bonuses). The employer needs to put the employee on terms.
All embracing final warning
This is best done by way of an all embracing final warning, setting out the aspects of the employee’s performance or behaviour which are not acceptable and confirming steps taken by the employer to address these.
It should also note that as the employee has refused to undergo a medical, counselling or rehabilitative treatment, any further shortcomings in the areas listed could result in the termination of the employee’s services.
Limit sick leave
It is important to note that in terms of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, if an employee is absent for more than two consecutive days (not working days), or on more than two occasions in an 8 week period, the employer is entitled to require the employee to bring a certificate for every day’s absence.
This means that if an employee works a 5 day week, then absence on a Monday or Friday requires a medical certificate. If the employee fails to produce a medical certificate for absences of more than two consecutive days or when the employee has been off for more than two days in an 8 week period then the employer may treat it as absence without leave. In such event the employer may take appropriate disciplinary action against the employee.
If the employee has exceeded his sick leave entitlement he should be advised that he will not be paid sick leave, even if a sick certificate is produced. He should also be advised that his services could be terminated on the grounds of incapacity.
It is vital to track and measure absenteeism. This can be done manually using a spreadsheet to identify spikes in absenteeism and the reason for them. It is also important to track absenteeism to identify trends. For larger employers, a very effective, phone app system sold by Absolve Technologies enables them to monitor and analyse absenteeism so corrective action is taken timeously, thus saving lost time and money!
If absenteeism is closely monitored and acted upon as suggested, it should not be necessary to pay an attendance bonus. That money would be better spent on rewarding good performance – not merely being at work which is every employee’s duty any way!
Written by: Bruno Bruniquel
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