The Bank Holiday heatwave – a blessing or a curse?

Human Resources 11th May 2018

Well!  What a weekend that was!  Record bank holiday temperatures.  A chance for the tabloids to wheel out the good old ‘What a scorcher!’ headlines.

A chance for those of a certain generation to don their knotted hankies and for thousands to poach themselves pink.  But best of all – a chance for those whose work may be repetitive and uninspiring to enjoy a genuine break from workplace drudgery and to properly enjoy a few days of blissful rest and recreation.  They then return to work, refreshed and revived, ready to face their workplace challenges with renewed vigour.  Or do they?  Does the surprise windfall of unexpected benign weather tempt workers to stretch their time off beyond their contracted entitlement?

The sad truth is that the unanticipated boon of a lovely spell of weather can result in an HR nightmare for businesses, causing real difficulties in the field of absence management.  Look again at those media images of people lazily basking on Brighton’s pebble beaches or fountain-frolicking in Trafalgar Square.  Do you seriously believe that none of them had chosen to make the most of the gorgeous sunshine by ‘pulling a sickie’?

Thanks to absenteeism – £675 per annum per employee lost

The consequences of unauthorised absences are well-known.  First, there’s the financial cost.  Absenteeism loses business more than an estimated £675 per person per annum.   Then there’s the cost to employee morale.  The work of the absentee staff still has to be done.  Who will do it?  Their colleagues of course.  Naturally, they feel resentment.  So, the downward spiral of declining morale begins.

A two-pronged approach

So, what can you do?  Well, as with many of life’s challenges, prevention is better than cure.  We recommend a two-pronged approach – on the one hand, be clear and consistent about policy.  On the other, do all you can to make your workplace a great place to be – even when the sun’s shining outside.  Let’s take prong number one.

Clear Communication

In every aspect of our lives, we need to know where we stand.  Whether it’s in our personal lives or our work lives, nothing makes us edgier or unsettled, than not being sure about what’s expected.  It’s your job, as a responsible employer, to set out clearly what is and what isn’t acceptable.  And this, of course, includes holiday entitlement.  You’ll need to make it clear to staff, as part of their induction, your policy with regards to holidays, reporting absence and discipline with ‘unofficial’ time off.  There’s no harm, as fine weather spells approach, in reminding them of your policies.

Be ready too for that sudden increase in requests for holidays and requests to work different hours.  You may find it impossible to accommodate all such requests.  So, be prepared.  Be fair.  Be consistent.  Your staff may not love you for refusing them time off.  But, your consistency and fairness will go a long way to earn you their respect.  And that – is a big plus.

The disciplinary process.  It’s all about evidence.

Be diligent when investigating suspected ‘sickies’.  Be sure of your ground.  Imagine the hurt and long-term damage to the morale of your team if, by chance, you get it wrong – and your absent staff member was genuinely ill.  You must be able to provide reasonable evidence.  Ensure you give your employee ample opportunity to respond and put their side of the story – before you take any action.  You must allow your employee to be accompanied at disciplinary meetings and offered a right of appeal against any disciplinary decision.

Use your own positive policies to pre-empt the temptation to take advantage

On the one hand, you’ve made your policies on absenteeism clear.  You’ve also articulated to your staff the likely consequences of them taking unauthorised absence.  But there’s also plenty of positive action you can take to reduce the temptation to ‘throw a sickie’.  It’s a question of being seen to be straight, yet big-hearted.

  • Book leave early – Encourage employees to book annual leave, giving you as much notice as possible.  A week’s notice is seven times better than a day.  Explain that, although the needs of the business must take priority, you’ll do what you can to accommodate their requests for leave.
  • Remind employees of consequences – Explain clearly that unauthorised absence might result in disciplinary action.
  • Be as accommodating as you can be – Do your utmost to allow an extra element of flexible working.  If you can, allow your people to swap shifts, take unpaid leave or temporarily change their hours.  Showing yourself willing to ‘go the extra mile’ for your staff will encourage them to do the same for you.
  • Small acts of kindness – Your employees may have their weaknesses.  Some may find it difficult to be inspired.  Perhaps they find the work repetitive or boring.  These are the people who are most likely to ‘throw a sickie’.  What can you do?  Well, you can begin by making work a nicer place to be.  Make sure they’re physically comfortable.  Install air-conditioning units or fans.  Supply cold drinks.  Buy them all an ice cream!  Then, ask yourself if you can make their work less of a drudgery.  Provide extra training.  Look again at the nature of their work, at your processes.  Could they share some of the more tedious tasks with their colleagues?

By taking these steps, you’ll show your employees what kind of a boss you are.  It’s unlikely that they’ll start to love you.  They might not outwardly thank you.  But, one thing you can be sure of –  treat your employees fairly, show generosity and consideration and, in return, you’ll earn their respect.  And that is a quality which money just can’t buy.

Motivate your people to be the best they can be.

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