Important Notice:
This site has moved to, please update your bookmarks. If you were looking for a specific post, you can use the site search option or archives at the new domain to find it. Thank you!

Monday, April 23, 2007

Sick and Tired

Dear Evil HR Lady,

We have a problem with staff taking their sick time as soon as they earn it. This leaves us with reduced staff coverage in several departments and problems. What suggestions do you have to reward a team or staff for not taking their sick time as soon as they earn it.

Thank you

Sick of Sick Time

Dear Sick,

Well, this is a problem. What happens when they really do get sick? Do they come in to work and spread germs or do they get "extra" sick time to compensate?

I think the answer to this question is highly dependent on the type of work your employees do. I, technically, have unlimited sick time. (3 days requires a doctor's note and on day 4 you have to be on short term disability.) However, I still have to get the work done. This means, that even if I feel terrible, I'm working on my laptop at home. Everyone with a laptop does the same thing. Sick, healthy, it doesn't matter. Work has to get done. Therefore, while we may have some abuse of sick time, there isn't much.

However, if your workers are factory workers, the line won't wait for them to get back. Therefore, taking a sick day has no "work" consequences for your employees. It may hurt overall productivity, but you're going to be hard pressed to convince people that their one "extra" day is going to affect things overall. And that person's extra day won't--it's everybody doing it that is the problem.

You need to change worker's motivation. You can do this in positive or negative ways. A positive way: Reward workers for unused sick time. Can you pay out unused sick days at the end of the year? Government employees frequently have this perk.

Another positive way: Instead of a straight payout for unused sick days, give a bonus to the whole workforce that is based on productivity. As part of your calculation, sick time would be used. If the bonus is good enough and sick time is a big enough chunk, you'll get peer pressure to only stay home when you are really sick. (I have yet to see anyone want their co-worker around when said co-worker is puking.)

A negative way: Reduce vacation time and lump sick and vacation time together into one "Paid Time Off" lump. Then, it won't matter to you whether they are taking time off to go skiing or because they are puking.

Another negative way: Require a doctor's note for any sick time. This adds an undue burden on your employees, though. Even with health insurance, doctor visits cost the employee (and the company) money. Plus, most illnesses (even the ones where you feel terrible) don't require a doctor visit.

As much as I hate to say it, you may be offering too many sick days. If people feel they can take them as extra vacation, then they either like gambling with the flu or know they will be given time off anyway when they are really sick.

Is morale at the office so low people can't stand to be there? That's another cause of absenteeism. Work on making your employees happier and they won't be looking for as many excuses to stay away.

Good luck and I hope you feel better soon.

Evil HR Lady


tomob said...

Another approach? Have a Paid Time Off bank. Aggregate current levels of available PTO into a number of days. EES get to use it for any reason they want. (needs a little refinement for extended illness - but works for sick and personal days.)

Tom O'B

Wally Bock said...

All good suggestions so far, but I'd before evaluating possible solutions, I'd spend some time, perhaps in town meetings asking people why they're doing what they're doing. A quarter century of consulting experience lead me to believe that your people will tell you what you need to know, and maybe give you your solution.

Anonymous said...

I always felt that people who take "mental health" days are just not satisfied with their job in some way. Instead of looking for a job that might be a better match, they would rather screw their co-workers and go shopping. While it might be needed in some companies, I think it's ridiculous to offer incentives for not taking sick days. How about showing some character and simply doing your job? We currently have an intern that would love to join our team permanently (it really is a great place to work) and she knows we have an opening. We had to inform her last week that, while her performance is excellent and she fits in well, she's missed too many days (8 in 2 months) and we're not comfortable with that pattern.

A nice perk for us is that we can use our sick days towards retirement if you give a year's notice. We get 10 sick days a year that rollover forever. Many of our long-time (25+ years) employees can retire a full year early! I also know several co-workers who had serious health issues (e.g. cancer) and all those sick days made their recovery much less stressful - not to mention the extra time you could use during a leave for pregnancy.

Evil HR Lady said...

Wally--you are, of course right.

When in doubt, ask!