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The Role of Organizations' Management in Managing Absenteeism

by Hakeem IBRAHIM

It is glaring that absence continues to cost many companies huge amount of money each year; due to this fact, virtually almost all business organizations now have absence management policies in place. Many organizations are not tracking absence accurately and believe that simply requiring a physician’s note to verify absence is a sufficient measure to manage it. In addition, when it comes to keeping workers on the job regularly, the systematic description of employees' strength and weakness is either well defined by the senior management through a well documented company policy or not made to rest solely upon the organization’s supervisors; more and more employers are losing ground.

Most companies begin operational activities from the scratch and after many years rose to standardized organizations, yet, the transformation of doing things in the right ways, under the right structuring is lacking. For these companies, the responsibility for managing absenteeism has fallen primarily on immediate supervisors. These supervisors are often the only people who are aware that a certain employee is absent. Actually, supervisors are in the best position to understand the circumstances surrounding an individual’s absence and to notice a problem at an early stage. Therefore, their active involvement in the organization’s absence procedures is pivotal to the overall effectiveness and future success of an absence policy or program.

Supervisors, sadly, have no guidance, training, or employees’ behavioral manual to effectively manage absenteeism that are most commonly well thought and planned ahead by employees, as it is believed that, almost two out of three employees who don’t show up for work are neither physically ill nor with genuine reasons. Unfortunately, supervisors are left on their own to carry the often unpopular task of identifying, confronting and resolving the absence abuse. In addition, supervisors ensure that work is appropriately covered during the employee’s absence together with other critical actions, such as:

  • ensuring that employees are fully aware of the organizational policies on absence
  • first contact when an employee phones in with sick complaints
  • maintain detailed, up-to-date records of absence of employees e.g. date, reasons for absence/nature of illness, expected return date, doctor’s report etc
  • identify the trends of absence that cause for concern, and
  • implement disciplinary procedure where and when required

To this end, there exists great scope for organizations to improve their absence and attendance management policies; to achieve this, absence management policy must recognized and take into account the different causes of absence like - poor health, smoking, excessive use of  alcohol, lack of exercise, body weight, job and career satisfaction, company commitment and culture, stress, working pattern, lack of flexible working arrangement, gender and number of children under 16 etc and develop appropriate policies that focus on these causes. The senior management team further has a role to play in supporting the supervisors to ensure comfortable and competent role of managing absenteeism through well written and explained (HR) human resource departmental activities such as, clearly defined guidelines on the recommended steps to be taken in cases where short-term absences are considered to be above an acceptable level at a particular period of time, the regularity of policy implementation, knowing fully that, theory without practice is conjecture and is usually irrelevant; while practice without theory is idiosyncratic and unsustainable. All parties should be in the know of the aim of absence policies and procedures. If there are any discrepancies between departments; a policy may lose its effectiveness.

In conclusion, senior management can reduce absenteeism, lost productivity and significant cost when they understand the causes of absenteeism at their organization and adopt targeted strategies to address them. Therefore, to effectively manage absenteeism from the senior management level, it involves not only identifying combination of factors to determine the level of absence in an organization, but also suggest options to reduce the menace through promoting staff good health, addressing workplace influence, provision of flexible and ideal work environment to allow staff to manage kinship responsibilities. 

All these and other actions in place minimize absence caused by these factors. A good absence management policy should also reflect the following key elements – company attendance encouragement culture, clearly defined employee roles, clarity of work procedures etc. Also, the managers have to feel confident in their ability to handle absence, before they can be effective, fairness and individual circumstances should be indentified because “there is no point in treating someone with a broken leg the same way as someone with repeated one day sicknesses”


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