How construction firms can save time and money by tracking absence

Managing absence such as sickness and holidays is essential. However, many firms are getting it wrong. YouGov research by Zurichi reveals that one in five (22%) of British businesses lack expertise when managing workplace absence, leaving them exposed to losing key staff and lost productivity.

In the construction industry managing absence effectively is even more vital because of the challenges businesses face. The nature of the work means the risk of accidents and injury is higher, and workers tend to be located across different building sites.

Research from Direct Line for Businessii revealed employers are losing on average 1.4 million days of workers’ productivity each year due to sickness; with the construction industry alone having lost 392,000 working days between 2014 and 2017.

According to another report from the Health and Safety Executive,iii 82,000 construction workers suffered from work-related ill health in 2018; 62% were musculoskeletal disorders and 25% were stress, depression, or anxiety.

With around 41% of the construction workforce being self-employed - who don’t get paid if they don’t work, these figures could be even higher.

A free guide from Citation’s HR & Employment Law expertsiv highlights that there is a trend for those who are ill or suffering from the effects of an injury to not disclose this to their employer, to avoid impacting their wages.

They say it is vital that firms monitor all workers – whether a self-employed contractor or an employee – who comes back to work after being off ill, because undisclosed illness or injury impacts not just them, but other staff too.

Keeping on top of sickness absence can help prevent smaller issues becoming long-term chronic problems that could impact the business and an employee’s work performance.

Equally, holiday leave also needs to be managed effectively, and companies need to ensure people are taking their entitled leave, particularly given the growing incidences of workplace stress and the increased focus on the importance of employee wellbeing.

Taking a break has a positive impact on people’s wellbeing and employees should be encouraged to take their full entitlement. This can help ensure employees are working at their best which can boost productivity.

When firms track annual leave, they gain visibility across the entire workforce of who is taking regular holidays. This means they can better manage employee wellbeing and productivity and strategically plan their resources to ensure they have the levels of staff needed for the business at any time.

Developing a sickness absence policy
A sickness absence policy should define the process both employees and employers should follow if someone is too ill to come to work. We recommend the following two-step approach:

1. Businesses request employees call in sick over the phone. If they’re unable to do so, someone needs to do it on their behalf. When the employee reports in, ask them what type of illness they have, and what their predicted return date is.
If an employee is off sick for up to seven days and less than eight days, then they can self-certificate. For absence longer than seven days, a fit note from their GP will be required. If the fit note says the employee is okay to work, then no further action is required.

2. When an employee returns to work, conduct a back to work interview – regardless of how long they’ve been off. Back to work interviews can act as a deterrent, in that employees will be less likely to pull sickies if they must formally sit and chat about the cause of absence.
If possible, return to work interviews should be organised for the employee’s first day back. The interview should be a manager or a HR professional. We suggest asking the following questions:
• What illness were they off with?
• Did they see a GP?
• Did they receive any treatment or medication?
• Did they follow the correct absence reporting procedure?
This is the time to address any attendance problems and/or conspicuous absence patterns – if there are any. Employers should document everything said in the returnto-work interview in writing.

What to do about recurring absences

If an employee repeatedly calls off sick, initially firms should address the issue informally. When looking into repeated sick days, pay attention to any patterns of absence. For example, is there a trend that the employee is sick every Friday or Monday?

However, if an employee continues to take time off sick and haven’t shown any signs of improvement after speaking with them informally, the next step is disciplinary action. Remember, to always follow a fair procedure.

Tracking absence using cloud-based technology
As well as developing an absence policy, firms should invest in a robust absence management system to manage sick leave, holiday leave and other absences effectively.

This gives employers real-time visibility over their entire workforce, wherever they are located and enables them to track absence and spot patterns of behaviour.

Activ Absence is a cloud-based system from Activ People HR that can be used from any device and enables companies to manage planned and unplanned absence, including staff holiday and manage sickness absence, plus leave types specific to the organisation.

One company that has transformed its absence management by introducing Activ Absence is leading Welsh construction firm, JEHU Group through that operates across South Wales and Southwest England.

The company grew quickly and the original annual holiday leave booking process had become difficult to manage, as it required a great deal of administration and time. The company needed a more efficient system, which would allow employees to manage their own holiday booking.

They also wanted managers to manage their own team’s leave and absence, rather than it being an ‘HR only issue’. They decided to invest in Activ Absence.
Gwilym Hughes, HR Strategic Business Manager, JEHU Group liked the fact the cloudbased system is easy to use and can be accessed by employees on their mobile phones, tablets, or laptops.

Activ Absence was also competitively priced, and the companies says the system has already paid for itself as they’ve found the benefits far outweigh the cost.

The benefits for JEHU Group
It is now much easier for employees to book leave and check their leave status themselves without having to go through HR. The system up time for the HR team and managers are now managing their own team’s leave and absence.

Being able to monitor and track patterns in sickness absence has enabled JEHU Group to see what issues are affecting staff and tailor their employee benefits accordingly. For example, the reports have highlighted that one common reason for sickness absence is musculoskeletal issues, so they implemented a health benefit for all employees that gives them access to consultations and physiotherapy.

There is also an online return to work procedure when an employee has been off sick replacing the paper system used previously. The system prompts managers to conduct a return-to-work interview after sickness before they can sign it off.

The JEHU Group also uses the system as a resource planning tool which isn’t something they were initially looking for but now find indispensable. In the fortnightly Operations Team meeting, the Construction Director reviews the report showing which employees have booked holiday in the coming month so they can ensure they have adequate cover arranged.

Ditching their old labour-intensive system and implementing Activ Absence has enabled JEHU Group to streamline their absence management processes and procedures, saving time and money and enabling them to face the future equipped for their continued growth.

To find out how absence management technology can help your business save time and money more visit: