Managing Absenteeism

In today’s work environment, there are a plethora of factors than impact our staff and this impact manifests itself in a variety of ways. One manifestation is the visible increase in absenteeism and the general lack of grave concern about being consistently absent especially where a visible pattern is evident.

According to the CIPD Absence Management Report 2008, the absence level in the UK public sector is an average of 9.8 days per employee per year and among private sector organisations the absence level is 7.2 days on average per employee. In my company, we have an average sick leave of 7.44 days per person for the year plus an overall vacation liability of 49% as at October 2008.

I am yet to find a definition of what is considered absence in the UK survey. We have so many different types of leave in Trinidad, so it is important to measure apples with apples. There are some organisations that have pooled all the types of leave into one pool bank.

Yes, in HR we say high absenteeism is usually an indicator about the staff engagement levels, and we are right. To address staff engagement in a time of global financial crisis with high inflation rates seems even more so challenging. We are unable to pay our staff competitive market rates considering inflation levels, as this leads to an increased company cost going forward and may even serve to further increase inflation rates.

Outside of addressing overall staff engagement as a long term solution to curbing absenteeism, I would like to consider some short term alternatives parallel to pursuing the long term initiatives.

It goes without saying that the organisation should first know the levels of absenteeism and the associated reasons as this would largely fuel the interventions selected. One should try to cost absenteeism. We have looked at the annual work days lost (all leave except vacation, national or jury duty) and used the average salary to calculate the cost of the loss time. One should also consider the cost or replacement staff, impact of error rate for temporary staff and overtime costs.

One idea is to pursue improving the quality of supervision by training and coaching the line on how to manage staff and employee relation issues as it relates to different staff demographics. We have found from our exit interviews that employees cited poor supervision as a fairly significant reason for excessive absenteeism.

Flexible working arrangements may help curb absenteeism. We found that traffic is so intolerable that employees say they just decide to take a day because they project severe traffic congestion on that day.

When absenteeism is high, the employees who actually show up for work usually have to defer their own vacation because they are busy doing double duty for other employees on excessive sick leave. Soon enough, the toll is too much and the support employees are also on excessive sick leave due to high stress. This increases the leave liability that requires active management to maintain it at acceptable levels. Hence an idea, maybe to back fill with experienced staff in the high risk areas and the use temporary or contract staff to fill the non-critical roles. Ensure all procedures are documented to facilitate easy staff rotation with minimal learning curve and error rate.

The Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) should be a constant to address any employee concerns that may also impact on absenteeism. One example of a candidate for EAP, is an alcoholic employee who is absent every Monday.

The company should also encourage healthy eating, healthy lifestyles and may even want to subsidise gym memberships to increase the probability of a health staff.

The company’s disciplinary procedure should also seek to address excessive absenteeism as well.

Some companies also pay the employee for perfect attendance at the year end. I would like to suggest a twist to this, to make the earning and payment frequency of such an incentive to be more frequent with an option to accrue the payment. For example, monitor and track attendance per quarter and make payments half yearly. Earn quarterly and paid half yearly gives the employee four opportunities per year to earn the incentive as opposed to earning yearly and getting paid yearly. The advantage is that if an employee is really ill, and must take a sick day, he/she can still be eligible for the incentive next quarter rather than waiting a whole year.

The absence type in scope for the above programme is suggested to include personal and sick leave. For my company this is a total 19 days per year. We propose to pay the employee an incentive worth ½ month of their salary per year if they achieve the target of zero leave. We propose that in scope employees exclude managers and executives.

We have done some initial figures on the above incentive programme and if 75% of the employees have no sick or personal leave at an incentive of two weeks salary yearly and eligible for the incentive using an average salary of the in scope staff, this works to much less that our actual loss in productive days. One should also consider when the behaviour of poor attendance corrects itself, what do we do with the incentive programme, stop it, or re-design it? Each company should do their own cost benefit analysis before an intervention like this is pursued.

These are just some tactical suggestions to our daily challenges that crop up for us to deal with and manage.

Denise Ali

Networking for HR Professionals

At last week’s HRMAJ conference in Ocho Rios, I had the pleasure of giving a speech on the topic of New Relationships, New Possibilities for Tough Times.

I spoke about the ways in which Human Resource Professionals are forced to do more, with the same or smaller budget, due to the economic times.  They need to find the latest technologies to get things done that allow them to secure their own futures, find the best talent wherever it may reside and take the lead in transforming their companies.

The entire presentation and the audio recording is available for viewing here:  New Relationships, New Possibilities for Tough Times

Francis Wade

CaribHRForum 2008 Survey Results on Regional HR Conferences

The survey results from the CaribHRForum 2008 survey were recently published.

Over 290 respondents took the time to complete the survey on the topic of the region’s HR conferences.

The link to the final report was published to the CaribHRForum discussion group (which as grown to over 300 members,) and it can be accessed by clicking on the following link:

Click here for the CaribHRForum 2008 Survey Report.


Closing the Gender Gap

Dr. Sheila Rampersad’s article in the Trinidad Express of November 18th, 2008 is titled “Women earn less than men in T&T”.  This statement was made in response to data produced by the World Economic Forum in their 2008 Global Gender Gap Report.

The article highlighted the fact that women in T&T earn half of what their male counterparts earn.  Hazel Brown, co-ordinator of the Network for the Advancement of Women, was quoted in the article.  She expressed grave concern that despite T&T’s increased rating from 2007, the gap seemed to highlight deficiencies in employment practices in the country.  Females outnumber males in the educational system from primary through secondary and tertiary levels.  They also outperform the males at examinations.  So why are they being discriminated against when entering and progressing in the workplace?  Can we regional Human Resource practitioners provide any insight?

I found Ms. Brown’s comments fascinating and this lead me to read the report.  There are some positives coming out of the report and this provides some measure of comfort.  Trinidad and Tobago leads the Latin American and Caribbean Region, jumping from 46th place overall in 2007 to this year’s 19th place ranking, the only country in the region in the top 20.  Trinidad and Tobago’s improved performance is largely in part to the number of women represented in parliament and with ministerial portfolios.  The report ranks one hundred and sixty countries based on four categories, namely Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival and Political Empowerment.

The excerpt below shows the ranking of T&T, Barbados, Jamaica and United States.

Country    Overall Ranking (2007)    Overall Ranking (2008)

Economic Participation and Opportunity Ranking

Educational Attainment Ranking

Health and Survival Ranking

Political Empowerment Ranking
T&T     46    19    52    39    1 (tied with other countries)    24
Barbados    n/a    26     9    44    1 (tied with other countries)    62
Jamaica    39    44    23    1 (tied with other countries)    91    91
United States    31    27    12    1 (tied with other countries)    37    56

There are several ways to analyse the data.  At face value, I saw that each Caribbean nation had strengths in particular factors.  This would lead to the obvious thought that we can learn from each other and maximise synergies.  We the Caribbean are ahead of the United States in certain categories, so clearly we must have something going for us.

The analysis highlighted in the report itself pointed to the trend of increases in closing the gaps.  The Nordic countries continue to perform well, seemingly they have the recipe for equality.  Closer analysis of the structure and systems of the economic, social and political facets of these countries would prove useful.  Norway, the leading country in the survey has modified legislation to dictate the gender balance required for boards of public companies, Finland, the second place country has a female president.  These countries also offer great support to females with generous maternity provisions and paternity provisions as well.

The report draws four conclusions.  The one that I find most relevant for us, Human Resource practitioners, is the correlation between gender gap and national competitiveness which has impact on GDP and quality of life for citizens.  The report correctly emphasizes that the most critical factor in the determination of national competitiveness is the effective use of human talent.  The skills, education and productivity of the workforce are all contributing factors.  These, as far as I know, all fall directly within our purview as HR professionals.  So we are poised to have a direct positive impact on our countries.

From recruitment and selection practices which embrace diversity and women in the workplace and give equal pay for equal work, to compensation and benefits where a cafeteria style menu can be implemented to cater to women’s specific needs, to training and development geared at giving the best minds, even if these are female the right tools to climb organizational levels, to policy and procedure development that promote equality, Human Resources can certainly mould the organizations that will lead to women being paid the same as men.  The regional HR associations could probably highlight their work to Ms. Browne so that she would know that HR professionals are doing their part to close the gender gap.

The report makes very interesting reading.  I strongly recommend it.

Bianca Attong


HR and the Global Economic Downturn

As economies all over the globe are slowing down, with rampant predictions of gloom and doom, what can we HR professionals do to keep the workforce positive and productive during these challenging times?

Communication comes to mind first and foremost. Employees must be made aware of how organisations anticipate the current conditions may affect them. We cannot hide and think we are immune or insulated from the problems of the leading economies, for this village we live in is now truly global. While we may not be able to share all our strategies to combat the crisis, we can at least relay a sense that we are in control and working to minimize adversity.

Focus groups can be established to generate solutions to mitigate the circumstances. Employees can brainstorm and present and discuss options to the wider workforce. This also goes a long way to ensuring buy in.

Revenues are going to be reduced and there may not be much that can be done to change this; so the costs or expenses have to be closely monitored. Finance can work along side Human Resources to advice management on where costs can be better managed. Costs for items such as kitchen supplies and stationery can be immediately addressed. Other costs can also be tackled with some closer analysis.

Technology can be utilized to greater effect with the introduction of teleconferencing and video conferencing facilities in-house or rented through service providers. While there may be short term costs associated with these, the long term savings may well be worth the initial outlay. We know first hand from our experiences with the CaribHRForum that virtual teams do work!

Emphasis must be placed on succession planning and retention of key employees during these times of uncertainty. Organisations can ill afford to lose prize talent when they need it the most.

Employees will be feeling more apprehensive and stressed, so that productivity can be affected. The use of Employee Assistance Programmes therefore becomes critical. Team Building sessions as well as those that focus on Stress Management may be timely.

Most of all, Human Resource professionals need to continue to be the warm, empathetic human beings that we are and smile as we seek to be a ray of hope in an otherwise unsettling world.

Bianca Attong


What Can HR Do For Me?

Well I guess it depends on who is asking this question.

We will explore this from the business perspective that is from the eyes of the line. (The People Management magazine of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development dated 18 September 2008 was used to help develop this article.

First of all HR should understand) what drives the business and what is their optimal operating model. In my organisation, we have adopted the Business Partnering model where the line is our first customer. This model was driven by the business and adopted to deliver on the needs of the business.

We also used the McKinsey 7-S framework, the strategy shapes, the structure, systems, leadership styles, shared values, skills and staff. We had to review all of it and the transition has been and is still is challenging. The main change is who is your primary customer and what this means for your role and the associated services.

We are expected to work through the line, where the line assumes prime responsibility for their staff and we advise and support the line. It is just as important for the line to understand what this means as it is for all HR personnel to understand what this means.

Gone are the days when the line says “HR wants to see you” to an employee with the intention of delivering some kind of reprim. This is now the role and function of the line consistent with the total management approach.

One of the first things that we did before moving to this model, external consultants conducted in-depth  surveys with all the major stakeholders to determine what they like about HR and what they would like to see in the future and what HR can do differently to be of strategic value. We needed to ask our customers what they want and what they thought of our current services.

We found that HR needed to be more responsive, more visible, and more accessible with faster response times with quality and error free work and related advice. Managers wanted HR to understand the business and the workforce where they can help management balance employee needs with business needs. Our customers want us to have an increased impact on the strategy of the business, but we need to illustrate that we deserve that recognition and role. Essentially our customers want HR to identify potential people implications early on so the business can mitigate against potential fall out by working with the people affected.

The line also needs tremendous support in time of change, either a system change, a structure change, a new product line or a new distribution channel.  Whatever the change; HR must show the line the required support by being present and providing solid advice and required tools to work through the challenges.

We also received feedback that our advice seems inconsistent at times as it depends on who an employee speaks with. This means that all HR must be on the same page and general internal training among the HR team is compulsory regardless of a specific role. In addition to knowledge sharing, it also helps create a positive learning environment for your HR team to learn, develop and grow.

The transition to the “Business Partnering” model has been painful but fruitful. The HR representatives had to make leap in their thinking, where they are more empowered to solve problems and suggest solutions as opposed to processing transactions. The majority of the administrative transactional activities were stripped away from the HR staff in the business and hived off to the shared service. All the roles in HR had to be revised with high expectations while ensuring the right skills existed among the selected candidates.

The HR team has been a great asset and I congratulate each of them on their willingness, cooperation and commitment as we continue to take on challenges and succeed – The Guardian HR Team (Guardian Holdings Group, Trinidad).

Denise Ali