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Attendance management

Editor’s note to readers

Welcome to the eighth edition of Human Capital Matters for2014—the digest for leaders and practitioners with an interest in human capital and organisational capability. This edition focuses on Attendance Management. Absence Management was the focus of the May 2012 edition.

Human Capital Matters seeks to provide APS leaders and practitioners with easy access to the issues of contemporary importance in public and private sector human capital and organisational capability. It has been designed to provide interested readers with a monthly guide to the national and international ideas that are shaping human capital thinking and practice. The inclusion of articles is aimed at stimulating creative and innovative thinking and does not in any way imply that the Australian Public Service Commission endorses service providers or policies.

Absence or attendance management is the development and application of policies and procedures designed to reduce levels of absenteeism. Better managing absence and increasing attendance rates has been along-standing issue for the APS. Early this year the Australian Public Service Commission invited APS agencies with high or rising unscheduled absence to participate in a working group to identify a range of best practice that can be applied by APS agencies to help address the issue of unscheduled absence. The working group has developed a product called the APS Absence Management Toolkit(the Toolkit). The Toolkit contains 20 different tools developed by APS agencies to assist in the management of employee absence. It was made available as an online resource to all APS agencies in September 2014. Several agencies are currently participating in an evaluation of the Tools.

While the focus of agency strategies is often on better managing absence, an equally valid approach is to instead focus on the attendance behaviour of the workforce, as it is attendance that is central to agency capability. Healthy attendance behaviour is fundamental to workforce capacity in terms of employee availability (how many people are available to complete the work) and performance (how productive people are at work). To sustain capability it is important that agencies have a good evidence base for understanding attendance behaviour, a good understanding of what influences thisin the workplace, and a thoughtful, active, and targeted approach to managing attendance.

While not covered in this issue, readers may be interested in the following Australian Public Service Commission publications:

Health and wellbeing policies are central to improving attendance. The first article in this edition focuses on the UK Government’s response to David Frost’s and Dame Carol Black’s independent review of the sickness absence system in Great Britain. The range of measures set out in the Government's response aims to support people with health conditions to both stay in and return to work.

The second article provides broad advice about the strategies and services, in the Australian context, that are available to employees needing assistance and support to achieve good attendance rates.

The UK report by CIPD and Simply health on findings of the 2013Absence Management Survey are highlighted in the third article. The analysis is based on replies from 618 organisations employing a total of 2.3 million employees.

The next article highlights suggested strategies, based on better practice, to promote attendance and address absence in the Queensland Public Service.

The fourth article highlights Attendance management best practice approaches employed by the University of British Columbia. It is particularly striking that approaches to absence management are very similar between different organisations.

The final article reports the research finding of an analysis of changes to the Italian sick leave compensation and the intensity of health status monitoring for absent public sector employees. This showed that absenteeism was responsive to the changes.

Thank you to those who took the time to provide feedback on earlier editions of Human Capital Matters. Comments, suggestions or questions regarding this publication are always welcome and should be addressed to: humancapitalmatters [at] apsc.gov.au. Readers can also subscribe to the mailing list through this email address.

APS Human Capital Matters: Attendance Management

UK Government response to the review of the sickness absence system in GreatBritain (2013)

This report is the UK Government’s response to David Frost’s and Dame Carol Black’s independent review of the sickness absence system in Great Britain. The response outlines a broader strategy to support the health and wellbeing of the working age population.

In particular it examines:

  • a health and work assessment and advisory service
  • improving sickness absence management
  • supporting healthcare professionals
  • reforming the benefits system.

The range of measures set out in the Government's response aims to support people with health conditions to both stay in and return to work. The Government's response to the recommendations in the review confirms that it will:

  • establish a health and work assessment and advisory service to make occupational health advice more readily available to employers and employees, enabling them to manage sickness absence better
  • abolish record-keeping obligations for statutory sick pay to allow employers to keep records in a less prescriptive manner for a shorter period of time
  • abolish the Percentage Threshold Scheme, which compensates employers for higher-than-average sickness absence, as this scheme reduces incentives to manage absence
  • work with education, local government and health employers to ensure all public-sector employers publish an annual average working days lost metric, and urge them to consider a review of their occupational sick pay regime.

The Government has confirmed that the new health and work assessment and advisory service will be delivered in 2014 and will include a state-funded assessment by occupational health professionals for employees who are absent due to sickness for four weeks or more. Further, the service will provide advice for employers, employees and GPs throughout the sickness absence process, and a case management facility for the minority of employees with complex needs who require ongoing support to enable their return to work.

Australian Government JobAccess: Managing-attendance

A good attendance rate is achieved when workers come to work regularly, are accountable for time off, arrive at work prepared and on time, and satisfactorily complete the hours required of them.

This brief article explores strategies and services available to employees needing assistance and support to achieve good attendance rates. It highlights some medical conditions where people may experience difficulties maintaining consistent attendance. It highlights a range of workplace solutions and adjustments that can help employees improve attendance rates. These include:

  • providing a flexible workplace
  • fostering a healthy lifestyle for workers to promote health and wellbeing
  • establishing clear or specific expectations or standards regarding employee responsibility towards attendance or absenteeism
  • praising improvements in attendance
  • keeping an ongoing record of employee attendance through the use of appropriate leave forms in order to more accurately monitor attendance rates and spot any patterns of absenteeism that may need addressing
  • assisting workers with the development of problem solving skills in order to determine the cause of any attendance issues such as punctuality or absenteeism, and to identify possible solutions
  • increasing awareness of relevant professional support services available for those prone to absenteeism and ensure privacy is protected.

CIPD in partnership with Simply health. Absence Management Annual survey report 2014

To access this report it is necessary to register for free on the CIPD website.

The report sets out the findings of the CIPD’s fifteenth national survey of absence management trends, policy and practice. The analysis is based on replies from 518 organisations across the UK in reference to 1.4million employees.

The average level of employee absence has fallen compared with last year from 7.6 to 6.6 days per employee. The data from the last five years suggests a fluctuating downward trend in absence levels in all sectors except manufacturing and production, which has seen little change. There is, however, considerable variation across organisations, with some reporting extremely high levels of absence.

Average absence levels are highest in the public services and non-profit sectors and lowest in the private services sector. Absence levels also tend to increase with organisation size, regardless of sector.

Most organisations (87%), regardless of sector or size, collect information on the causes of the revision of monitoring procedures employee absence. Minor illness remains the most common cause of short-term absence as in previous years, followed by musculoskeletal injuries, back pain and stress. The most common causes of long-term absence are acute medical conditions, stress, musculoskeletal injuries, mental ill health, and back pain.

The public sector is more likely than the private to rank stress and musculoskeletal injuries among their top five causes of short- and long-term absence. Across all sectors, organisations that had made redundancies in the previous six months are most likely to include stress among their most common causes of short- and long-term absence.

The vast majority of organisations (95%) have a written absence/attendance management policy. In three-fifths absence level is a key performance indicator.

Half have introduced changes to some aspect of their approach in the last year, with public sector organisations most likely to have made changes. The most common change is to develop line manager capability to manage absence, showing an increased focus on this compared with last year (2014: 61%;2013: 39%). Other common changes include introducing a new, revising or reinforcing an existing absence management policy and introducing or revising monitoring procedures. There is also an increased focus this year on attendance strategies.

The CIPD is the professional body for HR and people development. Simply health offers private medical insurance, health cash plans, dental plans and self-funded health plans

Auditor-General of Queensland, Managing Employee Unplanned Absence, Report 4: 2012

This audit assessed whether public service departments are effectively managing unplanned absence. It reviewed the role of central agencies, and examined more closely the Department of Community Safety and the former Departments of Education and Training, and Public Works.

The Queensland Public Service, in line with all Australian employers, pays its employees for approved unplanned absence up to limits specified in leave directives. In addition to the direct salaries and wages of absent staff, the cost of unplanned absence includes temporary replacement staff, lost productivity and potentially diminished service levels.

The report notes that the Public Service Commission Guide to promoting attendance in the Queensland Public Service provides suggested strategies, based on better practice, to promote attendance and address absence.

Key strategies include:

  • providing safe and healthy workplaces
  • having an organisational culture that supports work/life balance
  • policies and practices that are consistently applied, flexible and widely communicated
  • managers and supervisors with skills necessary to manage their workforce confidently
  • a culture that fosters attendance.

Appendix B of the report reproduces a checklist of strategies and practices. This is provided below:

Appendix B: Checklist of strategies and practices

This checklist is reproduced from the Public Service Commission's Guide to promoting attendance in the Oueensland Public Service and provides a quick checklist summary of key strategies and practices based on best practice research.

Checklist of strategies and practices
Strategies/practice Y/N
Source: Public Service Commission Guide to promoting attendance in the Queensland Public Service
Have you established sound methods for recording attendance and absence?  
Have you assessed the cost of absence in your agency?  
Have you analysed your agency's Minimum Obligatory Human Resource Information (MOHRI) data?  
Have you considered your Minimum Obligatory Human Resource Information (MOHRI) data against other organisational data?  
Have you established acceptable attendance and absence rates?  
Have you established ownership of attendance and absence issues? Should your agency raise the profile of attendance behaviour?  
Are managers and supervisors aware of their responsibilities?  
Do managers need support through provision of data and training in absence management responsibilities? Are they assessed on the availability and productivity of their staff?  
Are employees aware of their rights and responsibilities? Does your agency support employees to understand the cost of absence, and understand your attendance policies and mechanisms?  
Do your workplaces have open communication and feedback mechanisms?  
Does your agency need an attendance management policy?  
Should you establish an attendance management committee?  
Does your agency provide safe workplaces? How is your injury rate or workers' compensation record?  
Do you provide productive and sale work areas?  
Do you need to address stress in your work environment?  
Do you provide a workplace free of harassment?  
Are you providing a healthy work place? Do you need a health promotion and wellness program?  
Do you have an effective Employee Assistance Program?  

This audit assessed whether public service departments are effectively managing unplanned absence. It reviewed the role of central agencies, and examined more closely the Department of Community Safety and the former Departments of Education and Training, and Public Works.

This audit assessed whether public service departments are effectively managing unplanned absence. It reviewed the role of central agencies, and examined more closely the Department of Community Safety and the former Departments of Education and Training, and Public Works.

Attendance Management University of British Columbia

The Australian Public Service is not unique in its attempt to develop attendance management tools. The University of British Columbia has a range of Attendance Management Best Practices in place. These cover similar areas including:

  • sharing information with staff about expectations regarding attendance and absence
  • promoting wellness in the workplace
  • keeping records
  • reporting sick leave statistics to the central human resources area.

In addition the University has different attendance management programs in place for different groups of staff.

Absenteeism in the Italian Public Sector: The Effects of Changes in Sick Leave Policy, Maria De Paola, Vincenzo Scoppa, and Valeria Pupo, Journal of Labor Economics, Vol. 32, No. 2(April 2014), pp. 337-360

The researchers introduce absenteeism as being a problem for the public sectors of many countries. Public sector absenteeism had also reached high levels compared to the private sector in Italy as measured in2007. In 2008 the Italian Government changed both sick leave compensation and the intensity of health status monitoring for absent employees, with the aim of reducing the level of absenteeism among Italian public employees.

The researchers used a unique data set on a sample of 889 workers mainly employed in clerical jobs in an Italian public organisation that provided them with very accurate administrative data. They had data on individual characteristics and job attributes, and they were able to observe absence behaviour for each day of the period from January 2005 to March2011. In this time it was found that there were 53% fewer absences. The analysis also showed that there were changes from the time of the announcement.

The researchers found that absence behaviour is responsive both to wage reductions and to changes in monitoring intensity. Employees who incur higher wage cuts for being absent reduced their absences more compared to employees who faced smaller reductions. On the other hand, the researchers found smaller differences in male and female responsiveness to monitoring intensity. Gender differences in responses to wage reductions emerging from the analysis were not easy to explain.

The researchers are based at the University of Calabria.