Workplace Fundamental: Absenteeism

Young female secretary makes notes on a laptop while other business people are shaking hands in the background. Daylight, indoor, office.

Dr. Purushothaman
December 5, 2013

Mark Dobson, Workplace Incentives Partner

Workplace Fundamental: Absenteeism

Absenteeism, lets consider for a moment what it is. Basically if staff are off sick, or away from work for whatever reason, legitimate or not, they’re absent. This absence costs the company money.

Why are people not in attendance and why are people sick? In any workplace, you’re going to find mechanical strategies to try to influence the absentee rate. You’re going to find hand sanitiser in the right place. You’re going to find boxes the right size so staff don’t lift too much. You’re going to find ergonomic chairs and those little soft padded things for desks that support your wrist when using a keyboard or mouse.

All these things have their place and should be encouraged. They do a service. But if you want to develop resilience, if you want to develop a community where people are just driven to come to work, you need to tap into human spirit. Human spirit has a far greater influence on health than any of those mechanical things.

The reference point we like to use for this is that we’ve pretty much all have that experience as a kid when you’ve been sick all week and you’ve taken a week off school. On Friday night you get invited to a party, and you know you can’t go because you’ve been sick. You’re mate says, “Yeah, but the thing is, that girl you really liked, she’s going to be there. Apparently, she’s got a crush on you too.” Bang, you are cured. You are well and can attend the party.

Are you really cured or suddenly better? No. However there is now enough of a reason, a motivating factor, to tolerate the symptons that were plaguing you all week. This is not an intellectual decision this is just something that has clicked, it’s the human spirit being engaged.

We’re not saying that you need to become a match maker and try to get everyone in your workplace to have a crush on someone else in the office, obviously that’s not the way to go about it (although it would be highly amusing for some).

What we’re actually suggesting is the human spirit can be engaged when there are a few of its needs that are taken care of. Firstly, it needs a sense of purpose. It needs to know why; like why should your employee go to work? Is this menial task going to do anything; does it have a bigger purpose? Does it influence the world? Is it impacting the customer? The employee might not know or feel as though they’re in anyway important. Are they making an impact on their colleagues? We all need to feel like what we do matters, so let your staff know they matter!

We all need to also feel important. Is there a positive atmosphere in your workplace? When someone comes to work in the morning are they welcomed with hello’s high fives, a bit of energy? Perhaps a “Hey, how was your weekend?” Or do people not even acknowledge people arriving for work? Do staff know each others names? Does anybody care?

People want to grow. They’ve got to feel like today they’re somehow more than yesterday. Sometimes that’s financially; the bank account’s gone up. For most people though it’s about skill development in themselves, what they’re capable of, what they can do, what they can tell their friends. “Ah, at work, I’m doing this now.”

Sometimes when leaders and managers hear that, they think, “Oh, well, not everybody can be a manager. We can’t promote everybody.” That’s not what this is about. This is just about having some little area where you feel like you’re getting better. Even in some organisations you’ll see a big sign up saying, “250 days since the last workplace accident.” There’s a morale in the place that goes, “Let’s get that to 300.” See, that’s growth. People don’t want to be promoted necessarily. They’ve just got to feel like somehow today they’re better than yesterday.

The other one that people really want, the human spirit really wants, is they want to be able to serve their community. They actually want to be able to help those people around them. Sometimes they’re not even aware of it, but they do. There are people that come to work, and they’re involved in a footie club. They see some crates lying around, and they’re like, “Oh gees, that’d really help the boys down at the club.” They also want to say to their theatre group or their family or their cousins, “Oh, look, I might be able to get you something from work. I might be able to help.”

It’s not that they want to take something from work, but work has resources and things it isn’t going to use that would really help others. People want to be involved with contributing to those around them.

As a result, if you want to reduce the absentee rate, what you have to do is you have to start looking at our workplace and saying, well, if we asked our staff how important they felt, how would they score their importance level out of 100?

If we had to ask them: What purpose do you think your role has out of 100? How important do you think it is, as far as larger contribution to the planet? What would you rate it out of 100? How would you rate out of 100 the growth available to you? Or, how would you rate out of 100 the opportunity that this job allows you or creates for you to be able to serve your community or the other things that are important?

You might hear that from some idealism, “Oh, we can’t just start going around and giving stuff for free to our community. We can’t create growth through everybody. Some jobs are just menial.” No, no, no, no! That’s not actually accurate. That is crisis management - I don’t want to look at this; I don’t have a skill to look at this - approach. All those things can be put in place. What you want to do is have a plan.

What most people do is they may get a one off gift or reward for the office, on a highly infrequent basis. Perhaps arrange a BBQ once every couple of years. These things are great, and they should totally be done. But maintaining a sustainable and a reinforced set of rewards is essential to consistency.

At Workplace Incentives we all offer one off deliveries of fruit baskets, hampers, a one off yoga session, or a visit from 3 Minute Angels. What is key though is that we also offer an ability to plan for 12-months the rewards and incentives you want to have for your workplace. One-off rewards are great, but sometimes if it is literally a one-off their sincerity can be lost.

However, if you’re putting into place, as a manager, as a leader, a system that says my people are important and I’m going to grow everybody and I’m really going to address this, and the people really start to feel it and they feel it consistently; they see that time is given to it and resources are given to it and that it’s alive in the workplace; it’s not just management by cliché; then you tap into human spirit.

The message is simple: If you want to reduce absenteeism, then people need to feel important. They need to feel like they’ve got purpose. They need to grow, and they need to be able to contribute to the people around them because of their role. The way to do that is to have some sort of game plan.
About the Author

Mark Dobson is a motivation expert. Working with Workplace Incentives to promote key thinking and methods that should be considered to make work, more rewarding. A key problem Mark highlights and presents some solutions for is Absenteeism.

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