Thursday, 8 September 2011

Absence - It is time to learn to engage!

Whilst on my travels these days, and indeed over the course of my previous management career, there continues to be an issue for organisations (big and small) in the area of absence from work. Not only is the cost of it detrimental, but more so it is the management and admin time which is consumed by it. Compounding the control of absence, is often the wider impact of how it is managed locally, in terms of containing the growth of absence among wider groups, the decline of morale, even employee disillusionment from having to cover for it.


According to Aaron Ross, the founder and CEO of  Firstcare the UK’s leading outsourced minute one absence management company, "With the direct cost of absence exceeding £17bn a year employers are understandably focusing resources on tackling sickness absence, but putting more pressure on an over-stretched HR function to reduce the number of sickies is an edict doomed to fail". Aaron believes, from evidence gained helping major brands and health trusts, that an organisation needs to re-address the core approach to absence if it stands any chance of reducing the costs associated with sickness.

What is my point I hear you ask... 
With valuable line management and HR time so heavily invested in "dealing" with and trying to "reduce" absenteeism (not just sickness), what else must be done to create better outcomes from the time which is invested (and it is time, often hidden and intangible) in understanding and ultimately reducing absence - how can we re-engineer the time to create results and ultimately drive-down time used to manage absence and people? 

Speaking to HR executives I learn one point of view, speaking to Tactical executives and the view is often very different. I read so much these days in various HR and Management forums about engagement and the important impact of it on business. So, importantly we all seem to agree that yes we need to engage with employees, have focus groups, invest time in one-to-one sessions, train and develop managers and supervisors to engage. That is the Strategy and it is vital, not only to write it, but to sign-off on it within the organisational values. Therefore within this, will fall how to manage and reduce absence, due to better understanding and communication, follow-up and coaching.

What is the "Reality" at the front-line?
Strategy and Reality are two different beasts. I see and take-in so much from talking to line managers and HR teams, who are the ones tasked with ensuring the engagement of employees and in line with this, maintaining Key Performance Indicators that relate to areas such as; Absence (authorised, sickness, etc). As I cover in my post "Making Sense of Behaviour...." unlocking "Reality", what it is that these key people leaders feel, about the real limiting factors and pressures of keeping to the Strategy, is the 1st vital piece of intelligence that so many organisations just do not possess. Once these facts are known, the next stage of support for change can begin.

You need to establish how these talented and time-poor FLM and HR teams engage with employees, and more importantly what specifically are they doing in the process, this will reveal how effective front-line engagement is and therefore whether or not insight exists into what is creating absence or what is not helping it. When I ask these questions of front-line managers and their HR support, I get many defensive responses, also some excellently thought through and listed ones. But in many cases, the missing piece not realised is the insight of "what it is that is driving an employee to behave in the way they do/are".

In the case of absence, HOW you de-brief an absentee and HOW you un-cover the real reasoning behind it - behaviour patterns, human needs  - is the vital intelligence process to make lasting change as well as demonstrating to a wider audience that it is a controlled and considered management process. By getting into the Reality of the absentee - thinking and communicating as they do - it will allow them unconsciously to engage with their manager and both can begin to alter behaviour/seek help/communicate and address issues that are causing it.

Helping the front-line!
Time spent by management teams, communicating and also getting on with day-to-day responsibilities, needs to focused on gathering insight. Armed with insight - in context - means that these important people can engage with their teams much more effectively and also begin to influence behaviours that are driven by previously hidden thinking, needs and motivators. By simply improving the time spent one-to-one with individual employees and adjusting what is asked, how it is asked and developing very real insight, then change in behaviour becomes "personal" and "connected" - real!

I always think in terms of ROI - old habit! If a manager and HR colleague spend 70% of their annual time interacting with employees on all manner of things - communicating verbally and non-verbally - then 30% is then spent on other tasks. If combined they cost £70k (incl all costs), then £50k is spent on this interacting with employees. This investment is intangible as it is invisible time and "assumed" to be productive.

What if you could improve the time spent, make each interaction an ongoing "intelligence gathering and development" process - which builds-up information and engagement. What if the time spent actually reduced, because when one-to-one time was used it was therefore effective and less of it was needed.

Say that only 30% of the time was now required, which was ongoing with well connected communication, value driven and the employees felt engaged and understood. I am sure you will have done the maths! Now multiply this - for those with medium to large infrastructure the numbers are huge - across the organisation and imagine the impact.

By the way, the same applies in our home life. Better understanding of people and what they need/feel, means less wasted interactions and mis-understanding. What a wonderful world it would be.

Until next time....
Jay



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