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If you are an employer looking to address sick absence levels in your organisation, concerned about attendance management and what you can do to improve it, then I can help.

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Workplace Wellbeing & Stress - understanding the cost

Continuing my theme ahead of the Workplace Wellbeing & Stress Summit, in my previous blog I outlined the importance of understanding the financial and business costs of sick absence within your organisation and the various ways that they can be measured. Now that information together with other relevant data and statistics are  powerful tools to allow you to get that all important buy-in to  your  project to improve employee wellbeing.

But where do you start? ‘buy-in’ comes in various forms because you need to get your senior management, line managers, employees, trades unions and other stakeholders engaged so that they are fully supportive of the project and its aims. You will probably find that you will need to vary your approach depending on your audience e.g. a management board are likely to be interested in how much money can be saved by reducing absence whilst Trades Union representatives are liable to be more concerned about line managers taking firmer action against their members who have been off sick for long periods

The most critical step tends to be to get support (and funding!) from senior management in your organisation- that may take the form of a Board of Directors in the private sector , a Management Board more or likely in the public, or in smaller structures it may be the owners themselves.

Hopefully as a HR professional, you will have a place or at least be represented on that Board but it may be that you will need to seek an invitation to address them to highlight the impact of sick absence and poor wellbeing on the organisation.

Having hopefully secured that invitation you may not be given long to raise the issue, to get their attention and their commitment to the project. So it is critical that you harness the information that you have to support your case. For the senior players in the organisation you need to outline the impact absence is having on the business. This should include the following key areas:

Level of absence

This needs to layout the amount of days lost through absence, broken down into distinct areas of the business- this may simply be by the various departments in the structure (e.g. Production Team, Finance, Sales & Marketing, HR etc). A further breakdown by geographical location, grade/appointment and nature of absences may be necessary if there are differences dependent on where people work, what their job role is and the nature of illnesses that people are absent for;

Cost of absence

This is often the ‘bottom line’ data that senior management seek – what are these absences costing the company or authority/agency? You will need to highlight this both in terms of direct cost (i.e. the cost of sick pay and any additional (overtime or agency staff) costs) and the impact on profitability or the level of services provided. How much has production of goods or services been affected, how have profits been reduced, what business has been lost, what has been the impact on clients and customers etc?;

The Strategy

Having outlined the scale and impact of the current poor wellbeing and absences, so management can understand how the organisation is being affected (the ‘problem’ if you like), you then need to outline what can be done to improve matters- this needs to include the creation of a wellbeing strategy i.e. a policy programme to understand the reasons for the sick absence and to address them to improve employee wellbeing, to bring people back to work,  and to create an environment where sick absence is reduced. This is usually the most difficult aspect of securing ‘buy-in’, because you need to a) flesh out what the solution to the absence management challenge is, b) its cost and c) what you want the Board to do to make it happen;

The Commitment

Here you need to produce an analysis of the wellbeing programme you are seeking agreement of. Having worked out what you need to do to improve the level of sick absence and improve wellbeing, you need to lay out those plans in some detail and have them fully costed. In particular you need to be able to answer a couple of questions that senior management are bound to want addressing: a) what are the specific initiatives that you are going to introduce? b) what benefits will it bring? and c) what will it cost? These are things that you need to have resolved either yourself or within your HR grouping and team. Here it is vital that what you propose must have a track record (or at least a very strong likelihood of success) of working  in other similar organisations or industry so an assessment of its success can be  made, that you can demonstrate how you would run the project and be clear about the scale of the financial and resource investment needed and the benefit (i.e. the savings in terms of a reduced level in staff  absence, to the staff budget and an increase in productivity/lower running costs etc)

In my next blog leading up to the Workplace Wellbeing and Stress Summit 2012, I will look at how you can address the challenges and obstacles you can face during implementation of your project