Conference call cure for sick day blues

Conference call cure for sick day blues (photo source: Thinkstock/iStock)

It goes without saying that being ill is never a pleasant experience. As an employer, it can often be a difficult balancing act between showing sympathy for someone phoning in sick and managing the feelings of frustration in anticipation of the extra pressure that call is likely to bring to the rest of your workforce.

A recent report by Medlife found one in five small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) believed sick-related absence to be the cause of "significant disruption", with the cost of the problem amounting to 13 per cent of a company's payroll.

However, given that only one in three (32 per cent) firms admitted they were able to estimate how big an impact absence made to their operations, the actual loss could be much higher.

Staff illness can manifest itself in numerous guises and varying degrees of seriousness. Companies said to have experienced significant levels of absence down to sickness saw an average of 22 per cent of their workers unable to fulfil their duties.

This can represent a serious proportion of a firm's output, highlighting the need for something to change before a full-on epidemic strikes.

Treatment plan

We recently talked about the importance of having a business continuity plan for when workers can't get into the office due to bad weather and public transport letting them down. To an extent, a similar approach needs to be taken for when staff can't make their way to work after being struck down with medical ailments.

In order to stop productivity levels dropping to nothing because of their absence, you need to ensure there is a way for them to be able to have some input into your operations, if they still wish to.

By enabling personnel to work from home, those who want to work, but who may find travelling into the office too physically taxing, can still carry out their duties. 

Of course, there will always be those who like to pull a sickie. However, it's hoped these are in the minority and ultimately, if someone is trying it on, you can't physically drag them into the office and chain them to the desk, no matter how tempting that may be.

The motivated workers who are dedicated to the cause can therefore continue to offer their input into your operations while they are temporarily out of action from the safety and comfort of their own bed or sofa, through the wonderfully adaptable concept of remote working.

This can be particularly helpful if the timing of their illness leaves much to be desired, ie the day before an important deadline or crucial meeting and they are the only one who can get the necessary work done to the standard required.

Alternatively, if they really can't even manage to pull their head from the pillow, then free conference calling can make a real difference when it comes to updating colleagues on what needs to be done and how tasks should be approached to ensure success for the team as a whole.

Prevention is better than the cure

Then again, a better approach may be to address why staff are having to take so many sick days off work in the first place.

In a study carried out by serviced office provider Business Environment, stress was the reason cited by one in five workers for why they had been forced to stay away from the office.

Furthermore, research by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has revealed nearly three-fifths of companies are now using flexible working as a way to reduce unhealthy levels of anxiety among their employees, by creating a more agreeable work-life balance.

More can still be done on this front though, with the DWP also finding nearly half of the staff to whom it spoke admitting their line manager had never approached them to offer advice on how to stay clear of stress in the workplace.

Nevertheless, it's an issue that is increasingly coming to the forefront of many employers' minds and the Health and Safety Executive has published its own guidance for business leaders wishing to avoid the problem. Among its solutions are ensuring workers understand what their job entails and giving them more choice in when and how they carry out their day-to-day duties.

If you're sick to the back teeth of staff absence, perhaps it's time to add flexible working to your first aid kit? It could be just the medicine you need.