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Adrian Lewis, Commercial Director, Activ Absence, a cloud-based absence management solution, sickness administration and staff holiday planning, looks at how tech can help small business owners improve staff wellbeing.


It’s International Stress Awareness Week from 4th to 8th November 2019 [i], an annual event organised by the International Stress Management Association to raise awareness of the growing epidemic of stress in the UK.

Last year a survey by the Mental Health Foundation found that almost three-quarters of adults (74%) have at some point over the past year felt so stressed they felt unable to cope.

Stress can have a major impact on people’s health and wellbeing, which can lead to people being off work and sick. According to the Health and Safety Executive[ii] 11 million working days are lost every year due to stress and advise that employers have a legal duty to protect employees from stress at work.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD)[iii] also reports that stress is the second top cause of long-term absence in the workplace. It highlights the top three causes of stress absence are workloads, management style and relationships at work.

Another growing issue for employers is ‘presenteeism’ –when employees go into work sick. Canada Life Group Insurance [iv] reported recently that 89% of workers worked when sick, the equivalent of 29 million UK employees. Three in five (58%) said it was because they did not believe they were ill enough to warrant a day off, while a quarter (27%) said it was because they had too much work on.

If people are going into work sick because they feel stressed out with high workloads or fear of losing their jobs, employers need to know so they can address these concerns and prevent problems escalating.

While presenteeism and absenteeism may seem like opposites, they both stem from poor absence management practices. With the right tools and technology, employers can tackle both and ensure they have a healthy, motivated and productive workforce.

Using technology to cut the sickness bill

Managing sickness absence is a major issue for SMEs – it costs money, disrupts productivity and demotivates other employees. Smaller firms don’t have the resources of larger organisations so are often unable to cover for people who are sick, so the impact of absence is more keenly felt.

Many companies, particularly smaller organisations, are still using manual processes to record sick leave and holidays, jotting down on a bit of paper when someone has been off sick or adding stickers to a wall calendar to record employee holidays. Paper based systems are hard to manage and data is often stored in a spreadsheet and not shared centrally, so there is no company-wide company overview of who is in or out of the office.

Absence management software can provide a solution. It is specifically designed to help organisations record sickness absence, as well as other reasons why people are away from the office. Having a central, open and transparent system to record sickness and annual leave gives managers complete visibility of their resources, their sickness levels and who is on annual leave.

This means they can plan their resource effectively in line with business demands.  

Uncovering the root causes of absence

With data being recorded in one central systems, managers can spot absence management trends more easily. This could include people regularly taking a Friday or a Monday off, which may suggest underlying health issues such as stress.

It can also uncover issues with the workplace culture such as long working hours, heavy workloads or inflexible working patterns that may cause stress, allowing managers to make changes for the better.

Absence management software can also prompt return to work interviews which are an opportunity for staff to speak to managers in private about why they have been off sick. Often with issues like stress or other mental health problems staff can be reluctant to talk about it, but a one on one chat may make someone feel more comfortable doing so. Using such a system can also help to deter employees from pulling sickies as they know they will have a return to work interview when they come back

By gaining a better understanding of the root causes of sickness absence managers can offer relevant support services or make positive changes to the working environment to help prevent people feeling stressed.

Absence management software also tracks people’s annual leave and alert managers if someone is not taking holidays, which are important for overall their wellbeing and happiness. Employers can then encourage people to take their full entitlement.

The software also makes it easier to introduce flexible working practices, something many SMEs are keen to do, as employees increasingly value this way of working. The system will also keep track of other reasons for absence, such as off-site meetings, people working at home or taking study leave.

Having a system that tracks the whereabouts of employees ensures managers have instant visibility over who is in or out. This means they can better plan staffing levels and manage their business effectively.

Investing in such technology can help employers improve the wellbeing of their employees by tracking absence and understanding the root causes of why someone has been off sick, so they can offer support where needed. With stress and wellbeing increasingly on the corporate agenda it’s a simple way for SMEs to ensure they have a healthy and productive workforce.  


Author references:

[i] https://isma.org.uk/national-stress-awareness-week

[ii] https://www.hse.gov.uk/stress/

[iii] https://www.cipd.co.uk/Images/infographic-health-and-wellbeing-2019_tcm18-56171.pdf

[iv] https://www.covermagazine.co.uk/cover/news/3082418/presenteeism-trend-of-past-five-years-showing-no-signs-of-abating