Global Head, Innovation and Product Development, Sedgwick
Managing Director, Absence Management, Sedgwick
Chief Executive Officer, Ireland, Sedgwick Global
For the past many months we’ve been away from our desks, out of our chairs, and watching, albeit tentatively, as the world returned to work — all while emerging new strains of the coronavirus create uncertainty and demand flexibility.
As global employers strive to ramp up — and even improve upon — pre-pandemic employment trends, they share a common goal: to have a full complement of physically and mentally healthy and productive workers on the job. And really, that goal goes much farther than anything pandemic-related; from a productivity standpoint, employers are always eager to get people back in their “seats” and back to work, regardless of where the work is getting done, or the reason for their absence. The fuel to power that mission is an effective workforce absence management plan.
Developing a strategy for global workforce absence management in today’s ever-changing marketplace can be challenging; it will need to include a well-thought-out formula that combines technology, sensitivity to employees’ needs, awareness of local regulations and cultures, and a commitment to always doing what is best for the worker, and therefore, the organization.
While each organization is unique, as are the dynamics of individual countries, an understanding of common challenges and goals and an in-depth exploration of successful programs will provide the insights needed to develop comprehensive, effective and supportive workforce absence management initiatives.
Different approaches, same goals
At its essence, workforce absence management is an integrated effort to track all occupational and non-occupational absences within an organization. Program goals include:
- Helping employers better manage employee absences
- Safeguarding the health and wellness of employees
- Ensuring efficient operations
- Reducing disruptions to the workplace
- Avoiding non-compliance and related penalties
- Supporting effective return to work initiatives
The most effective approaches include emphasizing worker safety, respect for valued employees, a focus on proven programs that will help return employees to their jobs quickly and safely, and increasingly, an emphasis on mental and behavioral health needs.
According to the United Nations, about 1.3 billion workers worldwide are employed at businesses, corporations or government entities (another 1.6 billion work in the informal global economy). While the world’s employers and their needs are diverse, there are universal commonalities. A high number of employers today are facing an increasingly competitive field when it comes to hiring and retaining talent. Many positions, like those in skilled manufacturing, technology and sales, remain unfilled. As a result, a growing number of businesses face an unprecedented shortage of workers.
And that’s where solid workforce absence management factors in, in a big way. How people are treated when they are ill — specifically by their frontline managers — can be a factor in recruitment. A check of online global workplace reviews reveals frequent comments from employees with negative experiences when ill or on leave; you can be sure potential employees are checking out these sites as well. Companies with flexible leave policies and active support for life events are often chosen by sought-after employees.
Of course, leave programs vary significantly by country, industry and company. Some businesses offer rich leave policies; others, often because of government regulations, do not. According to 2016 data from UNICEF, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Estonia and Portugal rank highest for family-friendly policies (e.g., duration of family leave with full pay) within the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and European Union (E.U. countries). Conversely, Switzerland, Greece, Cyprus, the United Kingdom, and Ireland are among the lowest-ranking countries.