HR teams and line managers are likely breathing a sigh of relief that summer is coming to an end.
With the sizzling temperatures now behind us and children back at school, the usual rush of summer holiday requests will have likely subsided. This means heads of departments will have full rosters of employees at their disposal for the first time in possibly weeks – and for many, a return to full staffing levels can’t come soon enough.
Although it can vary between industries, it’s common for many businesses see a drop in output during summer times. For example, recent studies have discovered that along with general workplace attendances decreasing by 19%, productivity can drop by as much as 20% – not great when we consider many companies are struggling to meet their strategic objectives and on the whole, workplace absences are at their highest for over a decade.
The same studies also found that it’s common for employees to feel distracted by more seasonal events, such as festivals, the prospect of upcoming holidays or even sporting tournaments. This means the likelihood of short-term absences (either planned or unplanned) increases as the mercury rises.
So, whilst the approach of autumn can see an end to the summer holiday surge in absences and signal a return to ‘business as usual’ for many, it will only be a temporary lull…
Is your absence policy fit for purpose?
The summer months provide an excellent reminder that you need to have both the right culture and policies in place to manage absences effectively.
If your business has encountered difficulties with appropriate resourcing, experienced scheduling clashes, a rise in unplanned short-term absences or even disagreements about leave booking during summer, it’s likely your absence policy simply isn’t fit for purpose.
And, just because summer is over doesn’t mean there’ll be a respite from those types of issues. After all, winter is only a few short months away – and you can guarantee many employees will have half an eye on taking leave during the upcoming festive break. Are you expecting a repeat of the absence issues you’ve experienced this summer? If so, now is the time to act.
So, what’s the best way to make sure the wheels of the business keep turning smoothly during peak holiday times, strike the right balance with absence management and keep employees both productive and engaged? Let’s look at some key actions every HR team should take…
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 absence policy is clearly and simply written and is accessible to everyone – from your business leaders to your fresh through the door graduates. 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, HRIS platforms with automated and integrated absence management modules 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.
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. 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 (such as the football World Cup or European Championships, Wimbledon etc…) so that you can predict when people may want to book time off.
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, support a positive working culture and demonstrates that managers have a ‘human’ face and may want to keep up with the action themselves!
Make sure you handle all requests for leave fairly, and this is clearly stated in your absence policy. 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 – but remember, the needs of the business should always take priority.
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.
Absence management systems can help you keep track of persistent short term sickness and levels of absences across an organisation. 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. Also, 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.
At this point, it’s worth mentioning that if your business does experience regular bouts of unplanned short term absences, there may be greater issues at play. Being firm about the consequences of continued unplanned absences won’t necessarily solve them.
Poor work-life balances, workplace stress, disengagement and burnout from high workloads can all contribute to spikes in unplanned absences. So, whilst it’s important to be firm about absences with your employees, understanding the reasons behind absence levels are much more important.
A flexible approach to holiday requests is 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’re 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. So, allowing people to leave early/come in late and make the time up is another option that can help reduce unplanned absences, but also promote a healthier work-life balance – a key element of thriving company cultures and employee satisfaction.
If employees see you are meeting them halfway, they are more likely to go the extra mile to make sure their work isn’t adversely affected.