Is absenteeism killing your business’ productivity? How to beat it with flexible working

Are you losing employees and productivity to absenteeism? Find out how to build a more loyal, productive workforce through flexible working.  

To be competitive, businesses need to get the most out of their staff. But old-fashioned work practices, such as inflexible working hours (often incorrectly perceived as a more efficient approach by companies), are actually getting in the way of productivity.

And rather than increasing the number of ‘bums on seats’, this inflexible approach to working is contributing to the current epidemic of absenteeism.

‘Absenteeism’ is when a member of staff is habitually and frequently absent from work. It can be attributed to a number of factors – stress, low morale, poor work-life balance and general burnout – many of which can come from lack of freedom over when and where employees work.

Absenteeism is expensive for employers. A recent report by the Centre of Economic and Business Research found that it’s costing the UK economy £18billion in lost productivity every year. By 2030, it’s estimated that the cost to the UK economy will rise to £26billion.

Employees need a better work-life balance

One solution that’s seen as increasingly important in the battle against absenteeism is flexible working. 

Just a generation ago, workers were extremely unlikely to be offered flexible working. Instead, most were trapped at their desks from 9-5 every day, often having to sacrifice valuable family time and other personal commitments for their unrelenting work schedule.

However, changing gender roles has led to more women entering and remaining in the workforce, increasing the need for employees with families to have flexibility over their working hours.

Flexible working policies mean that parents don’t have to choose between absenteeism at home or work. Instead, it enables them to better divide their time between the home and the office – reducing stress. 

For example, parents can come into work later in order to drop their children off at school, or start earlier so they can leave the office in time to pick them up. And, if children miss school due to illness, employees can work from home instead of at their desk.

And the good new for employers is that giving employees more flexibility over how they divide their time is shown to result in a more engaged, productive and present workforce.

Healthier employees mean better work 

A culture of ‘you must be at your desk every day between these hours or else…’ can lead to presenteesim – employees who may be physically at work, but are less productive due to physical or mental ill health.

And it looks like presenteesism is, worryingly, on the rise.

A report by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) found that presenteeism has more than tripled since 2010, with 86% of employers having observed presenteeism in the past 12 months.

This alarming statistic indicates that current working conditions don’t adequately support employees with physical and mental health issues. And if we are to reverse the rise of absenteeism, we need to take people’s physical and mental health into consideration when negotiating working policies.

Flexible working practices can combat chronic low engagement, by enabling people to manage their work and home commitments, reducing stress and ensuring they’re always ready to do their best work.

How to implement flexible working

But how does flexible working work on a practical level? There are a number of ways to facilitate flexible working in your own business. Here are three suggestions. 

1) Set clear guidelines

Giving employees complete free rein to choose their own working hours can sometimes be detrimental to the service you provide – especially if they work in a customer facing role.

Setting guidelines like core hours can ensure that your customers have access to your employees when they need them, while still allowing for flexibility. (‘Core hours’ means that everyone needs to work certain hours but can choose how to flex around those.)

There may be other guidelines beyond core hours that you need to implement in order for flexible working to work for all parties. For example, you may have group meetings one day a week, and need everyone to be on site for these.

Being clear about what is non-negotiable, and what can be flexed around peoples’ commitments helps to ensure all parties understand what they need to do for the arrangement to work to everyone’s satisfaction.

2) Invest in technology

By investing in the right technology, businesses can make flexible working an easier and more cost-effective option.

For example, use of cloud documents like Google Docs means employees can access their work from anywhere, at any time. Unified communications tools make it possible for employees to maintain communications seamlessly, whether working at home or in the office. And additional functionality like UC contact centres can even make it possible to run full-scale communications programmes from multiple locations.

3) Invest in people

A flexible working policy can’t work without a team who believe in the company, and who are fully committed to working hard to achieve its goals.

Genuinely valuing and investing in your people will reward you with a loyal workforce who are happier and healthier, and will go the extra mile for your business when needed.

You’ll also bring out the best in people through training, and giving them the freedom to choose when, how and where they work (within reason) via flexible working policies.

Flexible working beats absenteeism

So, what would you rather have? A stressed, resentful workforce, worn down by trying to make their home and life responsibilities fit? Employees who are taking time off through stress or ill health?

Or an empowered, contented workforce who fully committed to your business’ goals, and have the flexibility and freedom to manage their work responsibly around their family?

For us, flexible working beats absenteeism hands down.

Alex Tebbs is co-founder of unified communications specialist VIA.

Photo by Venveo