If you believe its pre-launch hype, the new smartphone app, Skiver, is a godsend for career malingerers. It not only gives them the perfect cover story to pull a ‘sickie’, it also helpfully suggests activities to fill their day.
In reality, the whole idea smacks of cheeky marketing rather than a serious attempt to enable large-scale shirking, but it does raise serious issues. Recent CBI research revealed that British businesses lose 172 million working days and £13 billion to sickness every year.
So how can responsible employers keep absenteeism and its damaging costs at bay?
Whatever you do, never make hardworking employees feel guilty for taking genuine sick days. Creating an air of suspicion will merely damage morale and increase absenteeism in the long run. As ever, good management is more carrot than stick.
Rather than constantly fretting about absenteeism, seek imaginative ways to encourage high attendance. Is your business a fun and stimulating place to work? Statistics show that motivated employees are always more reliable and more productive.
Strive to create an open, supportive culture based on teamwork, not blame. Let people know you appreciate their hard work and that you can be flexible; for example allowing them to leave an hour early to visit a relative in hospital. Often, a simple ‘thank you’ is enough to keep a spring in their step.
Of course, there will always be people who remain immune to such incentives. But even then it’s worth digging a little to find underlying causes. Are they being bullied? Do they need training? Do they feel under-challenged or unappreciated, or are they overworked and simply at breaking point?
At the same time, hold managers at all levels accountable for reducing absence – make it part of their performance review. Deal with frequent, short absence first - it’s easier and produces quick results. And experiment with ‘return-to-work’ interviews – they’ve proved very effective for many businesses.
This pragmatic approach combined with an engaging and communicative culture will pay long-term dividends. Look to the likes of Office Angels and The Big Yellow Group for inspiration. They and others on The Sunday Times Top 100 Employers list have clearly created a work environment that’s more appealing than a day on the sick. If they can find a cure for the one-day stomach bug, so can you.