Unplanned Absences - Abenteeism

Unplanned absenteeism is something that you may have to tackle as an additional item to improving the work environment. Despite your best efforts, absenteeism will always be an issue for call centres. If you have provided agents with the carrot – a fun environment – and absenteeism is still an issue you may have to introduce the ‘half-carrot’ approach. The half-carrot is not as harsh as the stick, threats and punishment do not work and only cause angst for everyone. In fact the stick method will have the reverse affect. If you have tried many things and short-term absences are causing an issue for your workforce team, you may consider introducing the Bradford identification tool.

The Bradford formula was developed at the Bradford University School of Management and is a human resource tool that identifies the most disruptive of absences by highlighting staff who take numerous short absences reported as illness, and provides an opportunity to focus assistance and support for those staff with a high score to return to full health. Intervention strategies for staff with long-term illnesses will be different from those with numerous short-term health issues and the Bradford formula is just one indicator which should inform effective management.

The calculation is the number of unrelated absence periods² multiplied by the number of days absent. For example, let's take 10 days absence in the reference period you chose (a year is the norm). If an employee took 10 consecutive days off work, [(1 x 1) x 10] equals a score of 10. The reason for the low score is it was just one absence therefore easier to plan for. Five absences of two days each which would be [(5 x 5) x 10] with a score of 250 whereas ten absences of one day each would end with a score of 1000. Note: The calculation is simply designed to identify staff who take lots of single days away from work across a year. It is not designed for any other reason and further investigation is required to establish why the employee needs the time away.

In a call centre where I was the manager of staff development, we set a score of 500 as the benchmark for the introduction of intervention strategies. This number was based on the average absence days across the year for all staff. A further consideration is the number of sick days per annum that staff are entitled to. If they have eight days per annum and take each as a single day the calculation would be 640. However given that most people have two or three consecutive days off over winter due to influenza then the calculation remains under 500. Importantly, the service organisation (union) were consulted and engaged throughout to ensure there was a full understanding of why the identification tool was being used. Similarly, terminology needs to be conducive to a positive introduction. Replace the word punishment with intervention, the word rule with guide, rehab with wellness, etc.

The intervention strategies included; not permitted to work overtime, no higher duties, off-site activities were declined, no volunteer work or secondary employment allowed. Agents also had to produce a medical certificate for each absence, paid for by the employer. There are many other interventions which are dependent on the type of call centre.

Guidelines are relaxed for those who for example had been afflicted with a single illness or injury which was now cured or healed. Examples of a singular event would include an operation, hospitalisation, etc. Other options to soften the guides include allowing overtime on financial hardship grounds, removing one month’s score if the employee attended continuously for one month without an absence, and not counting the absences if it was to assist their recovery such as elective surgery for a condition which was impacting on their wellbeing.

Remember, this is for the benefit of the employee. It is to identify those people who may be struggling at work and need your assistance. Use it wisely.