The CBI estimates that absenteeism, mainly on the grounds of sickness, costs British industry around £11 billion a year. Last month saw a spate of articles about one supermarket testing a trial scheme in which workers are not paid for the first three days they take off sick, and another claiming that cutting payments for staff who take days off due to apparent sickness has greatly reduced absenteeism. The implication is that too many employees are taking unjustifiable ‘sickies’ and this needs to be discouraged.
It’s not clear if these new initiatives are viable or successful, but they raise the question of why people claim sick-leave when they are apparently not ill. The obvious answer is that they are ‘stressed’, which covers a multitude of causes. Within the workplace the most frequently cited stressor is an employee’s relationship with their manager or supervisor. Authoritarian management styles promote high levels of employee dissatisfaction. These bosses forget that, given two ears but one mouth, they should listen to their employee’s views and frustrations twice as much as they talk or instruct. As in personal relationships, the bottom line is always to ensure good communication, on-going dialogue and, whenever possible, offer understanding and a degree of flexibility.
The second most common cause of tension at work lies with inter-colleague relations. Often, respect and professionalism break down if internal conflicts are left to grow and fester, rather than adopting the simple and successful policy of well-managed intervention or mediation to encourage early resolution.
Many companies quote their sick-leave statistics, but don’t examine why their staff can’t cope with their contractual hours and take extra time off. Using an effective coach or mentor will unravel the reasons, and prevent a recurrence. My experience is that even a couple of sessions discussing particular problems or worries can resolve conflict and help the individual and their employers put workable solutions in place. This costs companies a tiny fraction of the lost wages and other issues caused by absenteeism.
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