I’m calling in sick today: What to do when employees keep missing work

By Rebecca Smith

call_sickjpgThere’s a lot of talk lately about rising trends in employee absenteeism.
We’re not talking about those times we sometimes take a day or two off work when we have the flu. It’s about organizations that have employees missing work frequently due to ongoing or repeating health and wellness issues.

Why some employers face absenteeism problems while others don’t
Why do some organizations seem to have this issue more than others? Do some employers just have more unhealthy employees? Sometimes that can be the case – depending on the work culture and types of jobs.  But more often than not it’s about wellness supports.

We’ve worked with a lot of employers over the years looking for solutions to attendance management issues – and the key differentiator between those organizations facing absenteeism issues and those with healthy attendance is how employers integrate wellness into their approaches to attendance management.

Don’t wait until an illness escalates before offering support
A lot of organizations don’t get involved in the absence of their employees until it has escalated to short or long term disability. That’s when a case worker usually steps in to assist the employee with rehabilitation to help them get back to work.

But a lot of illnesses or their duration can be prevented by taking an interest in an employee’s well-being early on when they’re absent. Helping an employee address their health issue early is important – studies show the longer someone is off work – the less likely they’ll return.

A call from a case worker, health specialist or even encouraging an employee to use their EAP program after a couple of days absence can do a lot. Checking-in can help identify potential root causes of symptoms. This could lead to getting the right treatment before an illness gets worse – or even discovering the real reason for an absence is due to conflict at work or an undiagnosed mental health issue.

Keep connected with employees – even when they’re absenthands
Sometimes long-term absences can’t be avoided due to a serious health issue or injury – but keeping connected with your employee is still important.

A lot of the times when we’re off from work – colleagues assume we don’t want to be bothered or feel uncomfortable burdening us – especially when the absence is due to a mental health issue.

But – the fact is – a lot can be achieved with regular check-ins and updates. There could even be an opportunity to provide some work that could be done at home or an invitation for the employee to offer their opinion or feedback on a project if they’re up to it. All this keeps the employee engaged and makes them feel valued by the organization. A feeling of self-worth, opportunities to contribute and regular social contact can have a big impact on someone’s recovery.

Learn about the leading health issues in your organization
Employers can also do a lot to prevent absences by being informed about the overall health of their organization. By looking at such things as claim trends, common reasons for absences and even introducing an employee health assessment tool – employers can target where to invest their wellness supports for the most impact.

Think about it – if many employees are at risk for diabetes or heart conditions employers could ensure healthy snacks are the priority at meetings as well as offer gym memberships or other chances to be active. If employers notice a rising cost in allergy medications maybe it’s time to offer employees info and sessions on how to prevent red eyes and stuffy noses during allergy season – or even take it a step further and look at the air quality at work.

Taking an interest and investing in employee health also lets employees know their employer values their overall well-being. This helps strengthen employee engagement – engaged employees are less likely to miss work.

Bottom line: Supporting employee wellness is the key to good attendance management
We use these approaches in our own corporation as well as in providing advice and solutions to clients. As a wellness organization it’s an approach we believe in and it’s had great impact for us and our clients.

In fact – not long ago – we took part in a Conference Board of Canada study –  Making the Business Case for Investments in Workplace Health and Wellness – which validated our approach as the right way to support employee wellness while also making financial sense for an organization.

– Rebecca Smith is director of case management services with Medavie Blue Cross.

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