'Absent' Angela - Do you have one of these in your organisation? Dealing with absence in the workplace

If you've been keeping an eye on the business press over the last few days, you'll be very aware that the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and the Institute of Directors (IoD) have been at odds over the level of business legislation in this country. The IoD regularly surveys their 55,000 members and the general theme of those surveys indicates that people worry that the sheer level of legislation, employment law and healthy & safety initiatives is potentially making companies in this country less competitive than our counterparts in the rest of the world.

By contrast, the CIPD have bitten back. On 23.5.11, Personnel Today magazine quote Dr John Philpott, Chief Economic Advisor at the CIPD as explaining that it was time UK businesses stopped “seeing red” over employment regulation and adopted a more unbiased evidence based perspective. From our standpoint, as a company whose purpose is to support businesses implement legislation correctly and properly, it's harder and harder for those businesses at the coal face to comply with these procedures without expert HR help.

Take the next in our series of winning cards for instance and lets look at an example. Take 'Absent' Angela. Most companies have an employee who fits this bill. She's very difficult to work around. By her very nature, 'Absent' Angela takes time off without a second glance. Her colleagues and bosses can't rely on her. One day she's in work, the next she's missing. One day she'll be present for a meeting with a list of objectives and actions, but it could be several weeks before she's done just 3 hours work due to the level of time she takes off. Her department can't plan, they get frustrated at not delivering department objectives and her team feel anxious that they're constantly one man down. This situation can go on for months and months!

Complying with legislation on how to deal with 'Absent' Angela isn't easy either. Following appropriate procedure means lots of letters being drafted, lots of meetings being organised to try to get to the bottom of her absenteeism, it means booking meeting after meeting and knowing full well, that she may not turn up for them, if they fall on one of her absent days! So they're rescheduled again and again. When they do happen, she is absolutely entitled to have one of her colleagues sit in the meeting with her, but that of course means her colleague has to take time out of her schedule too – that means that her emails are piling up, her phone messages are backing up and she's not able to focus on her own tasks and commitments. The whole department is affected. The amount of energy expended on filing in forms correctly, making sure that everyone is informed at each step of the process has to be painfully regulated – get it wrong and she'll take her employer to court in a tribunal and they'll lose on the grounds of not following procedure!

Get it right and even when she turns up to those meetings, they could prove a complete waste of time. Under Angela's human rights, and privacy laws, she doesn't actually have to tell you what's wrong with her. Not only does this mean that you can't plan for long term leave (because you don't know if that's what you're going to be faced with) but the worst case scenario is that she might be lying and you can't even find out!

So...as an employer – how on earth do you tackle your 'Absent' Angela correctly and properly? Here's our 4 tips;

  1. Build good relationships with your employees in the first place. If you do that bit right from the start, it's your biggest hurdle covered. Good employee relations means excellent communication – it's the golden card to seeing you through any management situation. Your staff will talk to you, trust you and confide in you.
  2. Make sure that your HR policies are up-to-date and robust. You must have a 'how to' practical guide on managing absenteeism. A step by step guide will pull you through situations like these. Make sure that they're completely transparent that staff and colleagues understand the procedures you've set down.
  3. Follow the policy! You've gone to the trouble of putting together formal policies, so do follow them. Follow them by keeping good records of absenteeism (not only will this housekeeping serve you well if a problem goes to tribunal but you could easily spot patterns of absenteeism which might help you solve the issue), keep communication up throughout the time your employee is off, talk to them regularly and be involved with their progress.
  4. You should also be training your managers in how to follow and the policies you've implemented. It's your very best plan to keep the company running smoothly. To learn more about how to deal with staff issues like this one, talk to us about which one of our workshops would be most appropriate, we look forward to seeing you soon.

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Juliet Price is the Managing Director here at Park City and has extensive, specialist knowledge in HR, Health & Safety and staff development. Enter your question below and we'll be back in touch soon with an answer!

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