Avoiding staffing sadness in the summertime

Here, Kate Russell discusses how to keep your workforce in check when the sun comes out.

Prosecco sales are rocketing. Trains are late because the rails are buckling. The Barton Road Swing Bridge which spans the Manchester Ship Canal got stuck again and the fire brigade had to come and hose it down. Telegraph writer Bryony Gordon wrote her weekend column about her holiday last week in Devon which was spent in thunderstorms and rain while the rest of us sweltered in the sun. And the chat radio stations are getting over-excited about wearing shorts to work.

All indicators that it’s summer, and this year we are experiencing some gorgeous weather. In fact Wednesday last week was a bit too warm for many of us. We were lucky that I had recently bought an air conditioning unit (it was delivered last Monday!) so our offices were not too hot and we were able to work comfortably. Who knows how long it’ll last. Some years, it feels you missed the summer altogether because you were in the bathroom for the precise three minutes the sun shone!

Last week I had been invited to give a talk on recruitment for Herts CIPD group. Thirty people had booked, but on the day of the event, the organiser had to contend with appalling traffic in the Hatfield area and a beautiful summer day. We thought that I might be talking to two or three die-hards and the rest had gone to sit in a pub garden with a chilled glass of wine – but actually to their great credit, there were 24 attendees who paid close attention and laughed in the right places!

The appearance of the sun often coincides with the disappearance of some employees. I wonder if they think we don’t notice?! Last week several clients called last week with absence issues. Everyone gets sick from time to time, even the healthiest of us and employers generally take the view it is important to take some time to rest and recover properly.

Often illness will be genuine, though not always. Occasionally an employee will trip himself up by posting something on social media about how he is at the beach or in a pub garden. Sometimes he will be grassed up by another employee, understandably quite annoyed that he has falsely called in sick just to enjoy the weather. In one case we dealt with a few years ago, an employee who reported in sick and quite unable to leave her bed of pain was actually on holiday in Morocco. Her colleagues gave us her emails telling them about the lovely time she was having.

Related: A step-by-step guide to managing repeated employee absence

Here are our tips for avoiding the disappearance of sun loving staff.

  • Keep attendance records. This show the number of absences and any patterns. Have guidelines in place so all managers are aware of how much absence is too much. If you think an employee is taking too much time off have a look at the records. Do the days of absence fall on a particular day of the week, e.g. Monday or Friday? Does the employee happen to fall ill before or after a period of holiday?
  • Have a private, informal meeting to discuss his absence. This could be done as part of a return to work meeting if the employee is returning from a day or period of sickness absence.
  • Tell him you are sorry to hear he has been unwell and ask how he is feeling. Put the facts to him; tell him how many days he has had off sick in the last year. If his absence does have a pattern tell him about it.
  • Occasionally an employee may become quite defensive and say ‘are you saying I wasn’t really sick? You think I’ve been lying?’ You can make clear that you are not saying the employee is lying about being ill just that as his manager you have concerns about his attendance. Ask the employee if he has any underlying medical condition. If he does it may amount to a disability in which case reasonable adjustments may need to be considered.
  • Nine times out of ten an employee will say that he does not have an underlying medical condition and he does not know why a pattern has formed. If that is the case then you can agree some targets going forward, eg no days off sickness in the next three months.
  • An employee will usually realise that he is on the radar after such conversations and absence levels will improve. Although the meeting is informal ensure you take notes and have the targets in writing. Tell the employee that if his absence does not meet and maintain the agreed attendance targets you reserve the right to look at things formally.

Kate Russell is the managing director of Russell HR Consulting.

Further reading on employee absence

Kate Russell

Kate Russell

Kate Russell is founder of Russell HR Consulting.

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