HR teams around the UK are probably breathing a sigh of relief that the England team are on their way home – particularly given predictions that a significant number of people were planning to take unauthorised absence during the games.

However, while UK businesses may have avoided the worst of the disruption that comes with major sporting events, an event like the World Cup is a good reminder that you need to have both the right culture and policies in place to manage absence effectively.

So what’s the best way to make sure the wheels of the business keep turning smoothly during peak holiday times and that employees remain both productive and engaged?

Reinforce your Absence Policy

Now is a great time to remind people about your absence policy and the proper procedures for requesting annual leave and reporting in sick. Too often, absence policies are explained to people as part of their induction… and then never referred to again. No-one can quite remember what they are supposed to do – and managers can let key tasks like back to work interviews slip. Make sure your policy is clearly and simply written and is accessible to everyone. If you have an HR portal it’s a great place to house the policy and any associated documents so that people can find the information they need. Of course automated absence management systems (like Cezanne HR) also make it easy for managers to get an overview of how many people are off at any one time so they can make sure work is properly resourced.

Plan Ahead

A little forward planning can help to reduce holiday related melt-down. Remind people that if they have important holiday plans – a family wedding abroad or a trip to celebrate a special birthday – they need to get the dates in the calendar early. Make sure employees realise it is not a given that all holiday requests will be granted – and that although you will do your best to accommodate people’s needs, they do need to check before they make a firm booking. Try to also keep track of key sporting fixtures over the summer (critical Wimbledon matches for example) so that you can predict when people may want to book time off (or be tempted to take a duvet day). If appropriate, you could try and deflect any issues over sporting fixtures by allowing people to watch or listen to major events at work – it’s a great way to build team spirit and demonstrates that managers have a ‘human’ face and may want to keep up with the action themselves!

Be Fair

Make sure you handle all requests for leave fairly. If there are conflicting requests and too many people want to be off at the same time, you might want to have a ‘first come, first served’ policy or to operate some kind of rota. Make sure you are not favouring one group of employees over another (non-parents do sometimes want time off in the school holidays too) – and above all don’t leave it to employees to fight out amongst themselves. Thwarted holiday plans can cause ill-feeling among colleagues and can be extremely divisive within teams. Let it be known that the final decision about whether to grant leave is down to you and that although you will do your best to help, the needs of the business also have to be taken into consideration.

Be Firm

Make sure people understand that there will be implications if they consistently flout the rules or are found out to be throwing ‘sickies’ when they are perfectly well but would just rather be somewhere else. Absence management systems can help you keep track of issues such as persistent short term sickness (which you suspect might not be genuine) or Monday-morning-itis (after a heavy weekend). Make sure people know that their absence rates are being recorded and that they will be pulled up if it rises to an unacceptable level or they are not communicating with you effectively about why they are away. Back to work interviews are a useful way to get a handle on what’s really happening – sometimes an issue with caring responsibilities may be masquerading as sickness and the employee may actually need support but is afraid to ask. Reporting back to people just how much time they have had off work can also be a useful exercise. Often they don’t realise themselves how much it has mounted up and may pull their socks up if presented with the facts.

Be Flexible

A flexible approach to holiday requests is the key to keeping everyone happy while also making sure business needs are met. You might consider giving line managers the ability to relax the rules, for example, about how many people can be off at any one time if they feel it is appropriate. They are best placed to judge what will and won’t work in their teams and can make decisions based on actual resourcing needs. Clashing holiday requests during August may not be much of an issue, for example, if the business is also quiet at that time and a depleted team will still be able to cope. Allowing people to leave early/come in late and make the time up is another option which might enable sports fans to catch key Wimbledon or final stage World Cup games while also ensuring the important work gets done. If employees see you are meeting them half way, they are more likely to go the extra mile to make sure their work isn’t adversely affected.

What measures are you taking to manage absence in your business? Let us know what’s worked for you.