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Are You Encouraging Employees To Call In Sick?

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6 recommendations to encourage a healthier workplace

You’ve probably heard the old adage that “nothing in life is certain but death and taxes.” With the deadline now behind us to file our taxes, accountants around the country are undoubtedly breathing sighs of relief that another hectic tax season is behind them.

Leading up to tax season, accountants work 50 to 70 hours a week, with the long hours usually lasting from January up until mid April. But this industry is not alone in working long hours – on average, Americans work the longest hours compared to their counterparts in the world’s largest economies. Full-time employees in the United States work an average of 47 hours a week, about an hour and a half more than a decade ago.

With Americans working longer and harder than before, the link between job-related anxiety and sickness is becoming more explicit. One study found that people who reported a high level of justice at work were 30 percent less likely to develop chronic heart disease, while another study of Swedish workers found that psychological conditions in the workplace could affect the amount of mental health sick leave people take.

We analyzed aggregate U.S-based company data across a number of departments to understand the likelihood of people requesting time off or submitting sick leave. What’s interesting is that in reviewing 614 distinct users from 74 accounting departments in the last two calendar years, March – the month prior to when taxes are due – is when an accounting professional is 49.8 percent more likely to take sick time off compared to other months of the year. In contrast, sales teams are most likely to call in sick in January (which potentially coincides with sales kick off meetings for the year ahead), while HR professionals are most likely to call in sick in July.

While we cannot make any firm inferences from the data,such analysis has helped companies around the world improve their approaches to workforce efficiency and employee engagement. Today, people with more demanding jobs are more likely to show up to work even when they should stay at home sick. But if you foster a more supportive work environment, the benefits are clear for companies – not only do sick employees cost the national economy $160 billion in lost productivity each year, but staying at home would decrease the country’s flu rates by at least five percent.

Here are six recommendations that organizations can do to encourage a healthier workplace.

1. Encourage and Empower People to Manage their Time. This doesn’t mean that you need to have a Big Brother-style way of management. Rather, there are many automated time tracking systems in the market that can help people understand how many hours they are working and what tasks are taking the most time, so that teams can make assessments on how to improve efficiencies. A great system will make capturing hours simple and integrate into people’s workflows – as well as be available in the cloud and on mobile devices – so that the system is a quick, painless and helpful activity for staff.

2. Capitalize on Historical Data. An automated time tracking system isuseful as it provides people with insights not only on where it can drive further efficiencies for the tasks or projects at hand, but also on future business decisions. If you are an accounting firm, for example, looking at historical data on hours worked can help you prepare better for peak seasons and understand how to better support staff. For example, an offsite or all-day training session for the sales department may seem like a good idea to do in April, but it may not be the best time to conduct if you realize that it’s the month that sales executives are most likely to be knee-deep in new business proposals.

3. Get Ahead of the Curve with Hiring and Retention Initiatives. Research has shown that our productivity per hour declines sharply when the workweek exceeds 50 hours, and longer hours are connected to greater absenteeism and employee turnover. By comparing the number of hours worked to labor costs and overall operational costs, businesses can more readily invest in areas to support its employees – including in hiring full-time workers or contractors to balance the workload. In the accounting industry, for example, tax preparers, advisors or administrative assistant duties can be easily delegated to a seasonal employee during the busy tax season. There are many people who have these skills who are looking to supplement their incomes.

4. Cultivate a Culture where People can take Time Off. Besides looking at how many hours people work, it’s important to understand if they are taking time off to recharge and relax outside of the office. Last year, the number of unused vacations in the U.S. was at a 40-year high, translating to $52 billion in unearned benefits each year. People may feel worried about requesting time off if there are concerns about job security or the work piling up while they are away, so HR professionals and businesses need to cultivate a culture where people can confidently be out of the office.

5. Implement Perks to Support Hard-working Staff. Every work culture is different, but there are many perks that can be introduced that are cost effective that produce big benefits in boosting employee satisfaction and morale. A few perks I’ve seen include a regular massage therapist, catered meals, monthly enrichment programs, volunteer hours, and even pet-friendly policies. Chatting with senior leadership can identify the right programs that can be rolled out and become an integral part of a company’s culture.

6. Appreciate and Acknowledge Staff. A recent study found that companies with a highly engaged workforce experience 65percent less turnover, and 37 percent less absenteeism. Particularly after a long and grueling project, it makes a lot of sense to recognize the hard efforts that people have put in. A few examples of this include public recognition, employee brag boards, a rewards and recognition system, or a team appreciation event. Not only do these activities show that you care about your employees, but it also helps to build teamwork and greater employee cohesiveness.

As Americans continue to take the lead in working the longest hours compared to other advanced economies, this makes it even more pertinent for you and your business to look at ways to reduce “presenteeism” and encourage a healthier and more engaged workforce. By understanding how people work and what support is needed during peak timeframes, organizations can institute the right mix of programs to support their staff.

Author Bio

Raj Narayanaswamy is the Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Replicon. With more than 25 years of software development and senior management experience, Raj is widely recognized for his visionary approach in developing innovative software applications that meet the needs of leading enterprise organizations.

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