WORKSHOP: PERSONAL TRAINER - One of my staff members does not have a long-term illness but takes one or two days off every two weeks. What should I do?

Absence from work is a problem because of its financial costs and its effect on employee morale. When one member of the team does not come to work, someone else has to do his or her work.

If this goes on regularly it can make other members of the team feel undervalued and overworked. You must not let this go on for too long.

Whether your staff's absence is caused by work-induced ill health, or by a working environment that causes stress or fails to motivate, it may be a signal that you as the employer are handling your human resources ineffectively.

A policy that embodies a supportive approach, and the careful monitoring of absence rates, are a basic minimum for organisations and you should use the information you gather to identify and tackle the true causes.

HR interventions such as attention to employee motivation and the provision of flexible working alternatives can tackle absence at its root. A work environment where employees feel valued should ensure that they attend when they are well, but do not feel compelled to do so when they have a genuine illness.

If you haven't got one, creating and communicating a policy on absence is the first step. Also, if you don't currently monitor absence rates, you should start to do so. The measures should be compared with pre-set targets so you can identify the scale of the problem and spend some time diagnosing the causes. This will then help you define appropriate solutions.

Some general principles to maximise attendance would be to ensure that line managers are adequately trained for the management role, as well as specifically trained in managing attendance. You could also include training for employees on how to recognise and manage stress. Providing employees with sufficient training and development opportunities, and making sure that they are aware of their contribution to the business as a whole, should improve overall motivation.

All HR activities can have potential knock-on effects on absence. One example is recruitment. You should make sure that you check the attendance records of all new employees and send the message at both recruitment and induction that attendance is something which is taken seriously.

- Stephen Bubb is chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (Acevo).

Send your questions to: Stephen.bubb@haynet.com.

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