Unlocking the Benefits of an Absence Management System for Your Business
Planned and unplanned absences are long-recognised problems that affect an organisation and all its members and stakeholders. They can include full-day absences, lateness, early departure and extended breaks.
In the U.K., the Office of National Statistics reported in a sickness absence report that ‘149.3 million working days were lost because of sickness or injury in the U.K. in 2021’. So, across a business and a country, this topic is considered important due to its effect on business productivity and the well-being of individuals.
This article discusses how the benefits of an absence management system can be used to the advantage of organisations, their members and other stakeholders such as customers. Let’s first consider the causes and costs of absence before discussing the features of such a system.
Causes and Costs of Absence
Causes of absence can be work and non-work related. However, it is essential to distinguish between the two if an organisation is to tackle absence to the benefit of all strategically.
Work-related absences can occur for several reasons. Illness-related absences can be physical or mental in nature. Some common causes include workplace injury, stress and burnout, poor job satisfaction, conflict and low morale.
With mental illness a leading cause of workplace absences, root cause analysis should be considered to identify any organisational behaviours that may cause, contribute to or exacerbate any condition associated with mental health. It is in the organisation’s interest to pay attention to such causes if related costs are to be minimised.
Non-work-related absences are also of significance to organisations. Causes include short-term and long-term illnesses (physical and mental) and family and personal issues.
Ultimately, these causes are of concern to the organisation and individuals. There will be a decrease in performance at the organisational level should absences become systemic. A reduction in productivity will be attributable to increased costs via the disruption to work due to absence. For instance, should a key member of a team be absent frequently on a project that requires their skill, then it is likely the deliverables will be delayed. The quality of those deliverables may also be reduced as the absent member’s work is delegated to less capable team members.
Temporarily, this may be expected; we are all human, after all. However, if absences are not appropriately managed, they may become more pervasive and have a knock-on effect and organisational behaviours change for the worse.
Staff morale problems may arise, management becomes increasingly challenging, and customer service is affected. This will very quickly start showing in the accounts and negatively impact the outlook of the organisation’s long-term performance.
Whilst a degradation in operational and financial performance is unwanted, litigation is another cost often not considered until too late.
Now that we’ve discussed the causes and costs of absences, let’s look at the features of absence management systems designed to mitigate those costs.
Features of an Absence Management System
Effectively and efficiently matching the supply of human resources to the demand of an organisation is at the cornerstone of operational activity within an organisation. Without doing so, productive work will not even commence. Moreover, once the supply has taken place, it needs to be managed so that business operations can continue effectively for the foreseeable future.
This is no small task – staff need to be present at required times, require time off, be motivated and willing to engage optimally, and their work problems must be transparent. The features and benefits of an absence management system will facilitate this in conjunction with management and supporting policies.
A fit-for-purpose system will enable recording absences with minimal impedance and be primarily automated, should automation be required. Enough data should be collected from absence requests to provide the information necessary for the employee and employer to comply with company policy and legislation; it should also support practical analysis of absences.
Once data is submitted, various functions within the management system can be utilised. For example, notifications can be disseminated to those who need alerting to absence, and planned absences can, if required, be authorised or confirmed according to any approval workflow. A permanent attendance record will then exist and act as a single source of truth for any integrated systems, such as human resource software or enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems.
When we think of planning as a benefit of absence management systems, scheduling holidays immediately springs to mind. However, this would only account for part of the power of such a system. Yes, planned absences can be scheduled, but we can use the system to facilitate business and project planning. It can also be used to plan for critical staffing levels and complex shift patterns. In addition, a system can ensure compliance with legal requirements such as working time directives.
Further, individuals can plan around organisational demands by inspecting schedules before booking time off. Managers can plan around seasonal variations and other factors affecting attendance within the organisation.
With accurate data about absences in the system, reports can be produced for various stakeholders. Holistic reports pertaining to resource availability and attendance can aid planning and management. Reports can show any emerging trends regarding absenteeism and presenteeism, and analysis and extrapolating data will provide helpful statistical insight such as that demonstrated by the Bradford Formula.
Benefits of an Absence Management System
At the highest level of abstraction, the main benefits of an absence management system are a healthier workforce and, consequently, a healthier business.
Such a system can prove pivotal to productivity in conjunction with supporting policies, culture and management. Improved absence planning and reporting at all levels of the business increase the capability to handle the intricacies of absent staff, ensuring that the organisation’s culture is supported and that it is resourced to produce timely deliverables to its customers.
Through automation, staff can be empowered to plan absences and report unplanned absences without involving other staff members for every absence – such as phone calls to management, which usually sets off a chain reaction of communications to H.R. and other organisational members. Hence, the burden can be lifted, saving money and time whilst providing a sense of ownership and responsibility to staff.
Through planning views, management can plan their activities around absences, and staff can arrange their absences around organisational commitments.
Through reporting, trends can be used to identify and address staff problems before they become systemic. This can aid an increase in transparency and promote healthier practices for dealing with absences.
Overall, the collation of data, scheduling and reporting capabilities will ultimately facilitate better handling of attendance and absences for the benefit of all.
Can an organisation operate without an absence management system?
Perhaps the right question is, ‘How much better would an organisation be with absence management software? ‘. Of course, avoiding absences is impossible, but avoiding unnecessary absences is not; resourcing an organisation correctly is not an option.
The difference in attendance between a happy, motivated workforce and an unhappy one can be stark for organisations and the individuals that resource them. That’s why the benefits of an absence management system are too hard to ignore.