11 October 2015
Small Business: Staff days off a sickening cost
Some companies are taking extra steps to keep staff showing up in the mornings.
You may think your sick days are adding up by this time of year, but they’re certainly adding up for the whole country.
According to the findings of the second Wellness in the Workplace Survey, produced by BusinessNZ and Southern Cross Health Society, New Zealand lost around 6.7 million working days to absence last year.
That was an overall average of 4.7 days for each employee, up from an average 4.5 days in 2012.
The survey also found the direct costs of absence totalled $1.45 billion across the economy last year.
BusinessNZ chief executive Phil O’Reilly says it is a source of worry for small-business owners who feel it is a factor they can’t control. On the other hand, he says, employers often struggle to help employees with issues related to their absence.
The trick, he says, is to get ahead of any problems by having clear policies for such things as taking leave to care for dependent family members and outlining policies clearly to new staff.
Training people so they can fill critical gaps occasionally if a need arises is another tactic worth considering, as is using technology to allow staff to work more flexibly.
Presenteeism, where workers are on the job but not performing, can also be hard to manage, he says, because people often won’t admit to things like feeling tired or unwell.
“Just because someone’s at work, it doesn’t mean you’re going to get a day’s work out of them.
“Once company owners are alive to that, they need to give permission for people to take time off. And it might not be a full day; you can make arrangements where they might take a few hours off then use technology to work from home.
“A bit of flexibility goes a long way.”
Kirsten Taylor is chief formulator at SleepDrops International, a natural health company she founded in 2009, which now has a team of seven.
“Winter is a particular time of anxiety for myself as a company owner because I know that if someone is sick it really will affect the whole company,” says Taylor.
To help front-foot the issue, the company has a strict “don’t come to work sick” policy.
Other measures to keep everyone healthy and at work include offering probiotics, vitamin C and vitamin D free of charge in winter and paying for services like osteopathy or a chiropractor.
Taylor reports that for the three-month winter period the team took seven sick days in total.