Are your learners taking too many ‘sickies’?

by Brett Henebery24 Jan 2017
Employees calling in sick can cost a company more than just lost productivity. L&D Professional looks at what your organisation do to deter this practice.
As Australia Day approaches, many managers are preparing for a wave of phone calls and texts from staff apologising that they’re too sick to come into work.
Staff opportunistically taking sick leave ahead of national holidays is an issue that every organisation faces at one time or another – and it’s costing organisations big.
Last year, the Australian Chamber of Commerce estimated that sickies could cost employers up to $62m nationwide.
Staff taking unexpected leave can also lead to increased stress on other employees, unhappy customers and lost business opportunities. In short, too many instances of staff chucking a sickie can result in serious damage to your bottom line.
So how can managers ensure that this practice is kept to a minimum, or deterred altogether?
Below, Citadel Magnus – corporate and financial communication specialists – shares six tips for improving your staff's attendance.
Allow flexi-time  
This is when you allow staff to accumulate overtime hours that can then be exchanged for the equivalent amount of time off. It can be the ideal arrangement for employees who have personal duties that they need to perform during the 9-to-5 workday, and might take a sickie because they feel there's no other option. Requiring that they give reasonable notice before using flexi-time will allow you to plan ahead – and where possible, offer overtime to other staff who are looking to clock up additional hours.
Track employee attendance
Are you finding that certain employees are more likely to chuck a sickie without a good reason during summer months and the holiday season? While it may not be possible to scout the local beaches and pubs, make sure you keep a history of sick leave absences. That way, if you notice any particular sick day trends emerging, you can communicate them to the employee and motivate them to change their behaviour before it escalates. Human resource management software packages such as Xero and Kronos Workforce Ready can help to streamline this task by cutting much of the paperwork around approving leave and tracking absenteeism.

Want the latest L&D news first? Sign up for our completely free newsletter service now.
Have clear leave policies
Make sure you have a clear process for managing sick leave that has been communicated to all employees. For example, you can make it mandatory that the employee or their carer call in sick by phone rather than by email or text message. When an employee takes a sickie, it can be helpful to have someone with HR experience speak with them directly. This will help you to find out whether they need any assistance getting back to work, or if it's possible to get them to work reduced hours, or to log in from home that day. If the staff member is genuinely unwell, finding the root cause of their problem can help in addressing any core issues.
Support healthy lifestyles 
Healthy and happy employees are also a great return on investment. A Comcare analysis found that employee health programs decrease sick leave absenteeism by 25.3 percent, and save $5.81 for every dollar invested in employee health and wellbeing. You can encourage healthy employees by supplying them with healthy snacks or organising outdoor lunchtime activities such as soccer or ultimate frisbee. By the same token, presenteeism – which is employees coming to work when they're obviously unwell and might spread germs to others – should be discouraged.
Know your rights  
While all employees are entitled to sick leave, employers are also entitled to take sanctions against anyone who abuses their leave privileges. The current Fair Work guidelines allow employers to ask employees to give evidence for their absence, typically a medical certificate – even if they have only been absent one day. Such a rule should be included in your workplace leave policy. It can also be written into your registered employee agreements, so that staff are clear on what's expected of them when they accept an offer of employment from you.
Take the lead before staff chuck a sickie 
Having a clear sick leave policy doesn't just make good legal sense – it can curb sick leave abuse by communicating to employees that you take good attendance seriously. Regardless, the best way to prevent undue absenteeism – as well as excessive employee turnover – is to provide your employees with a workplace that is safe, supportive, and open to flexible working.

Related stories:
Set clear expectations to boost productivity, engagement 
How to eliminate this ‘performance killer’