Attendance Management

by Kate Russell

Consider prevention as well as cure

One of the most cost-effective ways of managing attendance is to try to prevent employees from being absent by tackling the underlying causes of absence in the first place.

If employees are motivated, interested in their work, feel that they are being fairly and equitably treated and fairly rewarded, that their organisation is a good place to work and they have a sense of involvement, they are less likely to be absent.

There will always be some employees whose absence is unsatisfactory and whose attendance needs to be closely managed, but the incidences will decrease with good preventative action.

Some absence will be outside management’s control, but levels of absence can be reduced when positive policies are introduced to improve working conditions and increase employees’ motivation to attend work.

Consider taking the following steps:

  • Investigating how to improve physical working conditions
  • Offering healthy options in staff restaurants and at meetings
  • Initiatives to promote a healthier workforce
  • Taking ergonomic factors into account when designing workplaces
  • Ensuring that health and safety standards are maintained
  • Giving new starters, especially young people, sufficient training and ensuring that they receive particular attention during the initial period of their work
  • Wherever possible, designing jobs so that they give motivation and provide job satisfaction; jobs should provide variety, discretion, responsibility, contact with other people, feedback, some challenge and have clear goals
  • Examining training, career development and promotion policies, communication procedures and welfare provision to see if they can be improved
  • Making sure policies on equal opportunities and discrimination are fair and observed
  • Making sure supervisory training is adequate, and supervisors take an interest in their employees’ health and welfare
  • Making confidential counselling services available for employees
  • Introducing flexible working hours or varied working arrangements, if this would assist employees without conflicting with production or other work demands
  • Encouraging people to take their holidays.
Case study

The British Heart Foundation (BHF) employs around 3,800 employees, the majority of whom work in its 730-plus stores. It also manages around 22,000 volunteers.

For some years, the BHF had offered an externally facing Health at Work programme to inspire and support health and well-being in the workplace; however, the charity had a less successful internal focus.

In April 2015, the BHF formed a project team to develop and embed its health and well-being strategy, Live well. Work well (Lw.Ww). The programme is based on the four core lifestyle areas of healthy eating, physical activity, mental wellbeing and changing habits, with leadership as a unifying element.

The programme’s commitments are to:

  • encourage and actively support its people to live the workplace health values that we promote externally
  • encourage its people to take personal responsibility for their own health and well-being while at work and in their life outside work
  • encourage staff to spread the healthy lifestyle messages to friends and family.

The project team regularly initiates a series of activities and awareness campaigns in line with the four lifestyle areas.

In December 2016 the project group set up a mental health working group to help shape its mental health framework. The group brought together people from across all areas of the organisation, who brainstormed to develop a simple but strong vision for mental health. The vision is underpinned by five areas of focus that bring it to life:

  • commitment – physical and mental health given equal priority raising awareness – mental health is actively discussed to help break down barriers
  • building resilience – the importance of personal resilience is recognised and understood by everyone
  • leadership – managers understand mental health and recognise it as a core element of their people management
  • support – staff are only ever one click, call or discussion away from the help they need if experiencing issues with their health or well-being.

The working group also helped to plan and deliver a range of successful engagement activities around the topic of mental health, such as:

  • lunch and learn sessions to open up the conversation about mental health issues
  • a live web chat about mental well-being
  • a #NaturallyBHF photo competition run during Mental Health Awareness Week encouraging people to take a break, get outdoors and find nature wherever they work, with the winner given an additional day’s holiday
  • regular promotion of the BHF’s employee assistance programmes offering confidential counselling services, advice and hardship grants.

The BHF project team encouraged employee involvement in shaping the programme from the start. For example its branding ‘Live well. Work well’ was the result of a staff competition to name the programme.

Every employee who volunteers as a leader signs up to the ‘Wellbeing leader pledge’, committing to a number of actions such as being a positive role model for the programme, championing a healthy lifestyle and working environment, and gathering feedback and ideas to take forward Lw.Ww.

They are expected to be a ‘critical friend’ of the programme and identify what’s working and what could be improved and how. In order to fully understand the health profile and habits of its workforce, in 2016 the BHF carried out its first Lw.Ww survey.

There were some interesting findings. For example, on average the working day of retail staff was ten hours compared with eight for other directorates, while retail staff spent little time sitting down compared with around 6.9 hours for other staff. Around 30% of retail staff smoked compared with 8% of other staff, while 35% of retail staff rarely took a lunch break compared with 15% of other staff. Retail employees were twice as likely to have undertaken no physical activity in the past seven days.

Having this data enabled the BHF team to appropriately message health and wellbeing interventions to better meet the needs and expectations of different sections of its workforce. For example, a big focus for retail staff was to encourage them to ‘Take a lunch break’, which has been very successful, and this has led to a strong level of engagement from the people working in the BHF’s shops in other campaigns and habit-changing initiatives such as charity walks.

The Lw.Ww strategy is integrated into the BHF’s people strategy, forming an explicit element of its operational standards and smarter working pillars. Actions for how health and well-being commitments are brought to life are captured through a series of directorate people plans, ensuring that employee well-being is embedded across the organisation on a day-to-day basis through its people management and leadership activities. There has been top-level commitment for Lw.Ww from its inception.

A review of the programme is also included in the BHF’s annual health and safety report which is presented to trustees. While the Director of People and Organisational Development is the ultimate sponsor of the programme, each member of the executive group has also assigned someone from their directorate to be a leader on the programme.

The BHF uses a number of headline indicators from its operating plan to show results, with early benchmarking data indicating a positive effect already. For example:

  • In 2017 65% of people indicated feeling happy with the balance between their work and home lives compared with 59% in 2015, and 60% believe that the BHF cares about them compared with 54% in 2015.
  • Other people measures show that staff engagement has increased from 67% in 2016 to 70% in 2017, while staff turnover has dropped from 23.5% to 22%.
  • Staff absence has decreased from an average of 7.3 days among retail staff to 5.3 and remained fairly static at 2.5–3 days for other staff.