We've all been tempted, haven’t we? You take a peek through the curtains and see it’s a glorious day and consider calling in sick. But here comes the black cloud: while it may be tempting to hit the out of office button and set up the deck chair in the garden, pause before you pick up the phone, as lying to your employer can lead to a disciplinary warning and, at worse, dismissal.
Arguably, employers should consider how they might encourage employees to enjoy the summer weather. After all, sunshine has been shown to boost mood, alleviate stress and reduce anxiety – which could do wonders for employee well-being, motivation, and engagement at work. However, intermittent and unscheduled absences, particularly for startups and small businesses, can be crippling for employers. And for employees left behind in humid offices to pick up absent colleagues’ work, it can be a source of resentment.
So how can employers encourage staff to work during great weather? Essentially, the answer is to balance the use of both carrot and stick.
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The carrot is reasonable flexibility over working hours and arrangements, so employees can enjoy the summer weather if they wish. As long as they obtain approval from their line manager and make up lost time within an agreed period, employers should consider allowing employees to work from home, swap shift patterns, leave early or extend lunch breaks.
While such flexibility was previously frowned upon, numerous studies have shown that employees working flexibly tend to be more emotionally engaged, more satisfied with their work, and less likely to quit. Similar changes can be made to accommodate staff plans to follow some of this summer’s sporting events such as Euro 2016 and the Rio Olympics.
The stick is making it difficult for employees to skive off work, and making it clear that action will be taken if they do. If too easy to call in sick, or you don’t even need to phone at all, then people are more likely to abuse the system.
Employees may be dissuaded from taking non-genuine sickness absence if the employer puts in place a policy requiring employees to notify a specific person, for example a manager or member of the HR team, when they are off sick. Employees could also be required to attend a return to work meeting after each absence to discuss their illness in person.
Employers should inform employees that if they turn up to work late, leave early without permission, take longer lunch breaks or fail to turn up at all when time off has not been authorised, they will face disciplinary action. They should also be told that absences will be closely monitored and that any sickness absence which the employer has reason to believe is not genuine will lead to a disciplinary investigation.
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That said, employers should be careful not to assume that sickness absence on a hot sunny day is not genuine. They should also be sure to investigate the circumstances before deciding whether to instigate a disciplinary process.
Where employers adopt a carrot and stick approach, this should ensure the only complaint after a hot sunny day is sunburn, and not empty offices or disciplinary action. Ultimately, flexibility from employers and honesty from employees is the key to a productive and engaged workforce enjoying the Great British Summer.