Absence management is usually something managers talk about in Winter rather than in the height of summer. At the first hint of sun, everyone perks up and happy staff regale tales of weekend outings and share the aftersun lotion first thing on Monday.
Unfortunately, after a day or two, however, everyone gets hot and sticky and a longer period of warm weather can increase unauthorised sickness absence – whether it’s down to barbecueitis, a great game of tennis on screen, or simply sunburn for those who didn’t take precautions.
Of course, there are also those staff who take sickies because they would rather sit in the sun than come to work, but for those who do come in, the warm haze can quickly turn into a productivity killer, with tired staff and over-heated tempers.
Absence management expert, Adrian Lewis from Activ Absence, is used to advising businesses on how to improve absence rates. Adrian advises:
“While very warm weather can increase absence rates and kill productivity, it doesn’t have to. With good planning, preparation and a certain amount of ‘going with the flow’, the weather can even be an opportunity for engaging employees and raising morale and worker productivity.”
Here’s Adrian’s tips for keeping employees productive and motivated:
1. Don’t fall for the ‘maximum temperature’ HR myth – there isn’t a legal maximum temperature for any workplace. That doesn’t mean, however, that you shouldn’t do what you can to make work comfortable – discomfort will impact productivity. You need staff to be present – but you need them to be productive too!
2. Smart managers will have tested their fans and air conditioning in February – if you didn’t you can almost guarantee they are playing up now and overheated staff may be uncomfortable and grumpy – so make a note to do it next year! Seriously – put it in the diary!
3. If you don’t have air conditioning, make sure your staff have access to cold drinks – hydration is important so consider giving staff extra breaks for tea/coffee if they are not allowed to drink at their desk.
4. Pre-agree a list of ‘emergency warm weather coolers’ for line managers, whether it’s extra breaks or canned drinks, or a trip to the shop to replace a broken fan. Not needing to wait and get budget approval will enable them to respond quickly.
5. Relaxing the dress code a little in hot weather can help your staff feel more comfortable at work. Your customers will be warm too, so will understand if people are dressed in a cooler way.
6. Flexible working arrangements can really help staff cope in hot weather. You could offer flexible start and finish times so staff can avoid commuting at busier times, and if staff are able to work from home, consider allowing them to do so.
7. Have a plan for managing a sudden increase in annual leave requests. How will you cope if, say, all your fork lift drivers want to take the same days off? Remind your staff about your annual leave policy.
8. It sounds harsh, but whilst managers can be empathetic to heat related conditions, like hay fever, make sure sick days and holiday are recorded accurately and fairly. Most businesses using paper or spread sheets to manage absence admit they ‘skip’ recording the odd occasion of holiday or absence, especially if they empathise with the reason. Being sympathetic to one ‘hot and bothered’ worker could lead to resentment among other staff.
9. Boost morale by providing low cost treats you don’t normally offer, such as treating everyone in your office to an ice cream – pre-agree it ahead of time, and keep the number of a cash and carry handy so it’s as cheap as possible!
10. We know that staff tend to take sickies for summer sporting events – canny managers can turn staff interest in these outside events into an opportunity to build team morale instead by letting staff listen to the match on the radio and bringing in food that day, e.g. strawberries in Wimbledon season, or getting everyone involved, e.g. a ‘best hat for ascot’ contest.
Ultimately, by keeping staff cool, motivated and engaged, you can capitalise on the feel good factor and reduce the impact on absence and productivity.