How to manage staff absence post-Covid

'Managing employee wellbeing will be a challenge'

How to manage staff absence post-Covid

Adrian Lewis explores flexible working, HR considerations and absence management software

The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the world of work has been significant. Now as people start to return to the workplace, employers are facing several HR challenges, including how to manage an increasingly mobile workforce.

Over the coming months some firms will have a combination of staff still on furlough and those making a return to the office. Research also highlights that many employees who worked from home during lockdown will want to continue to do so for the foreseeable future and companies may need to adapt to support this.  

New research from GoldLeaf[i], a video conferencing company, highlighted that 60% of people would like to work from home more often than they did before lockdown. Almost two thirds of these would like to work from home either two or three times a week, and one quarter only want to visit the office one day a week.

Managing holiday leave in the coming months will be another big challenge.

The increased popularity of homeworking appears to be global. A forecast by Global Workplace Analytics[ii] estimates that 25-30% of the global workforce will be working from home multiple days a week by the end of 2021.

Another change will be that some employers will encourage more flexible working to keep their staff safe whilst the virus is still circulating. They may introduce staggered work times to ensure public transport is not overcrowded and employees can return to the office more safely. Some may opt for flexitime to spread out when people come into the office over the day or week. The chief executives of Barclays and WPP[iii] recently predicted an end to crowded city centre offices and rush hours as flexible working becomes the new normal to keep the workforce healthy.

Managing employee mental health will be another challenge. Covid-19 has had a big impact on the mental health of the nation and employers will need to be aware of this to avoid rising sick leave absence.

Concerns over mental wellbeing

A recent article in The Lancet Psychiatry[iv] highlighted that the coronavirus pandemic could have a "profound" effect on people's mental health - now and in the future.

Other research by the Mental Health Foundation and LinkedIn amongst HR professionals [v] highlighted concerns that home working is causing a rise in employee burnout and ‘e-presenteeism', with almost three in five (58%) HR managers fearing losing staff to sick leave as a result of the mental health impacts of working in lockdown.

More than half (54%) said that mental health issues such as stress, burnout, isolation, and loneliness had increased in their workforce since the coronavirus crisis hit.

Over three-quarters (79%) said they believed the widespread implementation of home working encouraged so-called ‘e-presenteeism' - where workers feel obliged to be online and available, even if feeling unwell or already having worked their contracted hours. 

Mental health has been on the corporate agenda for some time, but coronavirus will have pushed this up the priority list.

Overcoming these challenges

All these challenges highlight the need for employers to carefully manage their workforce and they may need to embrace new ways of working. Key to this success will be the need for them to keep track of who is working, when and where and the hours they have worked.

While in the past some organisations may have relied on spreadsheets or even bits of paper to record where staff are, when they are off sick or on holiday - the changes to the working environment now dictate a more robust way of doing things.

Managing staff in different locations, keeping track of those working flexibly or at home, as well as those on furlough or returning to work, needs a system which can provide an accurate, real-time overview of where all their staff are at any one time.

This is where investing in technology, such as cloud-based absence management software, can help. This software can provide the transparency a business needs to effectively manage their workforce whether they are working remote or in the office.  

Employers can also use such a system to monitor sick leave, employees who are working remotely, those who are on staggered work times, furloughed or on annual leave, as well as other absences. If the system is cloud-based, managers can access it wherever they are based, ensuring they have real-time visibility over their workforce.

Absence management software can support employee mental wellbeing. By tracking absence, employers will be able to spot any unusual trends such as someone suddenly having a lot of time off, which many be a cause for concern.

The system also prompts back to work interviews which can be carried out remotely or in person. This can encourage people to speak to their managers about any issues they are facing and give managers the chance to offer support if needed.

Managing holiday leave in the coming months will be another big challenge. Many employees will be desperate to take a holiday after the lockdown and using absence management software companies can carefully plan and monitor holiday leave to ensure there are no clashes and that their workplace is sufficiently staffed.

As restrictions begin to lift, employers can also use software to send out important company updates, as well as any new guidelines or policies that employees need to read and acknowledge. This will be a particularly important part of the safe return to work process, ensuring staff are aware of changes in working policies and practices that must be adhered to on their return.

As the UK starts its return to the workplace, companies will need to adapt how they work and having the right software and systems in place will be key to managing this transition successfully.   

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