Sick Days: When It’s Just Too Much

Despite this astronomical amount, only 46% of Canadian organizations readily follow their employees’ absenteeism rates.

Absenteeism is not only costly in terms of dollars, but in productivity as well. When it comes to sick leave policies, what are some good practices to consider? How can you avoid abuse without compromising employee conditions?

Before all else, devise a plan

Surprising, but true: Less than half of Canadian companies keep records of their employees’ absences. To end the abuses, we must first define them, and then properly document them.

For everyone’s benefit, employers can ask employees about their specific needs. A disability management committee is usually formed when these two parties collaborate. Following this consultation, the company comes up with its own “Bible” outlining employee responsibilities and company values, all clearly defined to help manage measures of absence.

The Bible’s “commandments” should be consistent. Simply put, they should treat everyone equally. Anything else results in moral issues, an increased employee turnover rate and can even lead to lawsuits.

Another rule to follow: the schedule. Allowing for extended absences, say for an operation, prevents loss of productivity due to unexpected absences.

Vade retro, unjustified absences

There are many policies that discourage abusive behaviours. For example, some companies require their employees to call whenever they are sick, and to do so for each day of illness. Others require a doctor's note. It’s not rocket science, but small steps can make a big difference.

Another often-used strategy has proven itself to be quite effective. Rather than punishing absent people, companies will sometimes motivate employees to keep on striving everyday through financial rewards, for example.

If it comes to the point where absences cannot be avoided, the employer must try to understand the root cause of employees’ absenteeism. Are there significantly more absences in some departments than others? Are some policies creating even more absences? Interestingly, during Canada’s restructuring of the federal public service, stress levels among employees were visibly higher, making absence’s skyrocket. In such cases, the employer himself is the cause of absenteeism. “Studies suggest that the more the work environment and employee-employer relationships are positive, the less employees tend to be absent,” states the Conference Board of Canada.

The causes of absences are complex. While the employer can control some factors by improving the quality of the work environment and establishing a structured program of absence management, other elements are more difficult to identify. Organizational influences, employees’ characteristics as well as social influences are certainly not simple to highlight. But we must, above all, first recognize the problem and sometimes learn to say no.


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