Insurance · 29 September 2015

Is staff sickness hurting your business?

Having support mechanisms in place is key to deal with absence
Having support mechanisms in place is key to deal with absence

When a key employee calls in sick and you’ve a deadline looming it’s bound to make your heart sink, not more so than if you run a small business. The fewer staff you have the bigger the impact will be on your business when they are away.

Lost productivity is one of the biggest consequences of people calling in sick. One in three small firms admit that they have lost money because of a single staff member taking sick leave, according to research from healthcare company Bupa.

Among companies that have suffered a long absence by a member of staff, 76 per cent said that it had had a “significant impact” on the business.

Half of all companies indicated business growth would be damaged if a staff member took an extended leave because of illness.

If an employee is off for several days someone else might need to take on some of his or her work to hit deadlines. That in turn has a knock-on effect on the rest of the business. If that person then has to take on the work of the absentee, it means that something they may have been working on just won’t get completed.

And that can have a significant impact. If a key employee is absent, you might have to step in to cover, or find someone to replace him or her. That replacement many not always be trained for that position. This can result in a bigger overtime bill, production targets can suffer, and your business might have difficulty hitting revenue targets while you are short staffed.

Those members of staff that take on the additional workload may become disgruntled that, either their hours have increased, or that they are not able to get their work finished in time.

Even when the sick employee returns to work, depending on how long they’ve been off, they may find they need extra time to get back on track and up to speed.

Consider taking out company healthcare insurance for your staff. Ready access to good healthcare can speed diagnosis, treatment and care, lessening the time a staff member needs to take off. It can also help achieve better outcomes as employees often seek medical advice sooner.

Good open dialogue with your employees is vital to maintaining healthy relationships. Talk with them and ask for their ideas about how to handle absenteeism and to improve staff accountability.

Open communication builds stronger working relationships, which will help your business to run more smoothly.

If your employees feel that they have had an opportunity to play their part in policy making and are part of the process they will be much happier and more likely to buy-in to any decisions made.

Write down how your company manages day-to-day responsibilities such as sales orders and other key company functions, so that someone can step in and replace staff and you can keep running your business. Also list out and detail what each job involves and how things work.

Make sure that other people are trained to take over for this person so that no employee ever becomes so important that you can’t ever operate without him or her.

Ask the “what if’s”. What if a staff member is not available for longer than a week? Would their job get done and how will they cope when they return if their role is not covered while they are away? Go through different types of scenarios and think through what needs to be done so that panic and stress in the office when a staff member calls in sick, doesn’t ensue.

Depending on the illness, some staff members may want to consider working from home if that is possible.

For some businesses the problem is not staff being off sick but rather employees not wanting to take time off because of the guilt they feel that someone else would have to take on their workload. The impact of people coming to work with illness is as important as managing the issues that come with absenteeism, as not only can it result in lower productivity, but can risk spreading illnesses on to other members of the team.

Small businesses need to be flexible and recognise the reality that at different times they will need to make different decisions.

That flexibility does have its pluses. Smaller businesses may find it easier than large corporations to help employees who might need to day off to take care of their sick child.

The reality is that your business will survive, albeit may struggle a little bit when on a Monday morning an employee picks up the phone and calls in sick.

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Nicola Green is head of direct sales and retention for Bupa UK, leading a team providing services businesses with up to 250 employees. She has been with the company for more than 20 years, acquiring a broad understanding of a business’ needs when it comes to providing healthcare for the workforce.

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