How to leverage employee absence data

Going over graphs and planning with colleauge

Despite the various economic obstacles and the complexity of running a business in 2017, managing absence remains one of the biggest challenges for HR professionals all over the world.

According to the Working in America: Absent Workforce study by Harris Interactive, almost 40% of employees call in sick to work during one year for reasons other than actual illness. Some call in sick because they have ill children, personal errands to run or appointments to attend – and an amazing 9% said they called in sick because they stayed up watching a sporting event or awards show!

Troublingly, 61% of employees in the same survey also said that when they don’t show up for work, their work simply isn’t completed. This places great pressure on businesses to manage absences and ensure they have minimal impact on the overall productivity and the bottom line of an organisation. Businesses are starting to do much more than simply having an attendance policy, they’re leveraging data gathered from absence management software in order to identify problems, reduce absenteeism and even offer greater flexibility for their workers.

If you’re planning to use the data collected from your absence management software to your advantage, here’s how you can get started.

What should I be recording?

In order to analyse data on absences, you’ll need to establish which data you’re going to collect. Here are the most common metrics you should measure when it comes to absences:

  • The total number of spells of absence in a specific time period (monthly, quarterly, yearly). This can be per employee as well as for each department and the whole workforce.
  • The percentage of employees with spells of absence in a certain period.
  • How long the average spell of absence is.
  • The average number of absence days per employee in your workforce (some may take no unauthorised absences, while others may take significantly more, but it’s important to work out the average).

You should also be looking to establish patterns wherever you can. Do certain employees have a tendency to be absent on specific days of the week? Are employees more likely to take a single day of absence or a chain of consecutive days? Is there any correlation between employee absence and certain departments or managers?

How can I use this data?

Once you’ve collected enough data using your absence management tool, you can start to leverage the data to the benefit of the business. One of the first things you should look to establish is the top five causes of absence within your organisation. Short-term illness (such as colds or a virus) is likely to be up there, but things like illness in the family can also be common reasons for staff members time off work. Think about ways in which you could make this easier for your employees. Could you provide staff members with the ability to work from home on these days, so they don’t fall behind while caring for a sick child or family member? Flexible working is an excellent way to boost productivity across the workforce and reduce the risk of absenteeism.

You might also discover that issues like depression, anxiety are increasingly common reasons for calling in sick. This information could then be used to justify offering enhanced access to on-site counsellors or offering tools so that employees can manage their workloads more effectively.

Back pain is another consistently common reason for absence across all workforces. The World Health Organization states that low back pain causes around 149m lost work days in the US every year, with the total costs to businesses estimated to be between $100bn and $200bn (including wages and lost productivity). If absences due to back pain are causing real productivity losses across your workforce, consider introducing ways to reduce the risk of back pain. Corporate wellness schemes which focus on exercise and healthy eating for employees can help to reduce the likelihood of ailments like this, and these schemes have also been proven to boost productivity among many workers.

Absence management data can also be used to identify the most popular days of the year for employees to take as authorised leave. The end of school semesters can be incredibly popular times for families to book holidays, and the time around public holidays can be common days for staff to take as leave, in order to maximise their time away from the office without eating into their own leave allowance. If numerous staff are set to be away from work at a certain time, you can prepare yourself to mitigate the dip in productivity that this may cause, covering any staff shortages well in advance.

The importance of enforcing attendance policy

As well as analysing and leveraging the data you generate from your absence management software, it’s essential that businesses enforce their attendance policy across the board. 60% of those who responded to the Harris Interactive survey about absences in the American workforce stated that a poorly-enforced attendance policy actually had a negative impact on their performance. Rather than being pleased that they can take advantage of a scheme that is inadequately enforced, many employees feel less motivated at work and it creates a culture of doing the bare minimum, and nothing more.

Enforcing attendance policy means gathering the appropriate data, following the guidelines to the letter, and giving employees the tools and resources they need to plan and manage their own absences more effectively. There are now a multitude of solutions out there which can help automate the enforcement of these policies, and employee self-service tools can empower staff members, putting them in greater control.

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