Burnout: the challenges of managing absenteeism in a hybrid world

Julie Lock | Advanced | Burnout

Have your team clocked less sick days during the pandemic but are now on the verge of burnout? You’re not alone …

Providing right-first-time solutions that evolve with the changing needs of customers and the markets they operate in, means that Advanced are constantly monitoring feedback from the workplaces and many verticals that their software solutions support. Over the past few years they have noticed a strange trend. Julia Lock, HCM Commercial Director at Advanced shares more …

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), sick days taken during 2020 were at their lowest levels since records began in 1995. That’s a surprising statistic to read during the initial stages of a pandemic. While it might be tempting to think that these low levels of absenteeism were simply down to fewer people getting ill, the truth is likely to be far more nuanced. For instance, remote workers might have been more willing to work through illness because they were already socially distanced from their colleagues. Or perhaps employees simply feared for their jobs amid the flurry of furloughs and redundancies. It could also have been down to outdated absence management policies that weren’t quite fit for purpose, leaving employers unable to assess the wellbeing of their staff.  

Absence, sickness and presenteeism all predate the pandemic as HR issues, so why has the number of people taking time off suddenly plummeted, and why is presenteeism – where employees are present but too ill to be effective – on the rise? 

It’s likely a combination of all of the factors mentioned and more, and demonstrates just how the relationship between employer and employee has changed over the past 18 months or so. The hybrid working dynamic has completely changed how some employers interact with their staff, putting additional pressure on HR teams to adapt and innovate in order to better serve their workforce and deal with absenteeism more effectively. The hybrid model means less commuting, so some employers are actually getting more out of their staff in terms of hours worked. That needs to be balanced with a support and absence management policy that’s more in line with the so-called ‘new normal’. The way we work has changed, so it’s only right that the way we approach absence management changes too. 

Presenteeism occurs when good absence management is lacking

During the pandemic, nearly half of the workforce (40%) admitted going to work while they were sick because they didn’t think their illness was serious enough to take time off. Around a fifth of employees said they’d push themselves to go in because they’d feel guilty about taking a sick day. There’s an old fashioned thought that employees pushing themselves to go to work is a good thing, but the toll it takes on an individual – and on the business itself – can’t be ignored. A 2020 report puts the cost of poor mental health among employees at between £33 billion and £42 billion per year for businesses. This expense could be dramatically reduced or avoided with a healthier working culture that prioritises employee wellbeing. Good absence management policies are part of a healthy workplace. 

But what does a good absence management policy look like? And how can it help reduce the cost of presenteeism and make workers happier and more productive both at home and in the office? 

The modernisation of absence management

Good absence management isn’t just about knowing when employees aren’t at work. It’s about creating an environment in which employees feel they can take time off if they need to, and giving them a proper channel through which to arrange that time off with minimal disruption to your business workflows. It’s about providing support and anticipating needs, so individuals feel well supported and the business is staffed by happy and productive employees.

Traditionally, absence management would start and stop with the tracking and monitoring of employees. That’s archaic even by decade-old standards, so certainly isn’t fit for purpose in a world where employees are expected to work in a hybrid environment where communication and teamwork can be more of a challenge. Businesses are having to employ solutions to manage productivity and absences in a way that prioritises both business and employee needs, in an open and transparent way. In order to be effective today, HR teams should have good communication channels with staff, the ability to spot patterns that might suggest support is needed, and the means to provide and allocate that support along with any time off. Thomson Reuters, for instance, offered all members of staff in 2021 a ‘mental health day off’ in order to unplug and focus on wellbeing, mental and emotional health. Will practices like this become more commonplace? 

Taking a proactive approach to absenteeism is good for staff and business, reducing financial outlays that come with sickness and fostering an environment where everyone can perform at their best. Burnout might have become a bigger issue during the pandemic, but it should be viewed as a cultural issue rather than an individual’s own problem.

Paving the way for next-generation HR management

Anybody that’s worked in HR knows it can be an endless task. It’s down to the HR department to ensure that the business is compliant with government standards when it comes to leave and absenteeism, that company policies are correctly followed, and that employees have everything they need to perform effectively no matter whether they’re in the office or logging on from the kitchen table. 

Remote working, working from home, training days, maternity leave, paternity leave and more, are all things that need to be logged when it comes to managing absenteeism. Perhaps if HR teams could automate these smaller tasks with employee self-service, giving staff themselves the ability to record their current working status and book their own time off, they’d be free to spot patterns, pre-empt people’s needs and do what they’re supposed to be doing for your business – managing your human resource. Businesses need to evolve a new working culture fit for a new working environment, and technology will be the driver. 

Cherry Martin

Cherry Martin

Cherry is Associate Editor of Business Matters with responsibility for planning and writing future features, interviews and more in-depth pieces for what is now the UK’s largest print and online source of current business news.
Cherry Martin

Cherry is Associate Editor of Business Matters with responsibility for planning and writing future features, interviews and more in-depth pieces for what is now the UK’s largest print and online source of current business news.