Don't let absenteeism make you ill

12 August 2009

When the government’s swine flu hotline opened in July the centre was inundated with 100,000 new cases and clearly the pandemic had reached our shores. Thankfully the following week only a third of that number had been stricken, or had the strength to call. Or maybe the case was that all the sickly people who wanted to stockpile Tamiflu had already been satisfied by the accommodating call centre guys.

Either way, for business owners it’s nigh on impossible to know whether your people are genuinely afflicted or simply caught up in the national hysteria, or fancy a week off work. And there’s the problem.

Last month the Oxford Economics Think Tank warned that a six month pandemic in the UK could cost our economy £60bn. And the damage will be felt more acutely by small businesses. Of course if your employee really has the lurgy then you don’t want him in the office coughing on your three bean salad.

I have unreserved sympathy for anyone who has swine flu, rhino flu or any other kind of flu for that matter. But I have unreserved disdain for anyone who says they have, when they haven’t. Which is probably why I’m not an employer.

But instead of investing time and money in producing internally devised cost tracking systems, or absence reporting services, it might be worth spending a few minutes pondering this:

Why do employees swing the lead? We can rule out sunbathing. Once in a blue moon it might be when the England cricket team is threatening to win the Ashes. But there is usually an underlying answer, which is one of two:

  • Your business is not a happy working environment, or
  • You have recruited the wrong people.

Haven’t you noticed that when your best and most committed employee is fighting the advanced stages of pneumonia you can’t push them away from their workstation with a cattle prod? But an unnoticeable sniffle will prompt a flurry of sick notes from the work shy.

At times like these it’s worth making sure your team is still happy, and not by sending out a staff engagement survey. Have you got it right in terms of:

  • Positive transparent communication
  • Empowerment
  • Recognition and celebrating success
  • Valuing your people


A close knit team that understands and believes in your company’s goals will withstand any viral or economic attack with more vigour.

And if you have the perfect environment and are still wondering why you have a worker who has already guzzled twenty packs of Tamiflu – you might take a bit more care on your next recruitment campaign because it will take fifteen years to sack them.

Stuart Wilkin writes for Insider

Posted  12 August 2009


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