A thorny issue
There is the common saying that “English is a universal language”. This can well be matched by that of “absenteeism is a universal workplace problem”.
Absenteeism is a problem that never seems to go away. Further, it remains a chronic headache for employers. It is also the recipe for declining productivity, which manifest itself in the fall off in the Gross Domestic Product.
This unabated matter is a thorny issue for a developing country. Whereas absenteeism is a fundamental problem, the real and bigger problem is to find a set of workable solutions to address it.
Those who go in search of a single solution to this problem should be mindful that they are looking for a needle in a haystack. In any workplace, there is likely to be more than one factor which may be contributing to the existence and escalation of the problem.
Employers and human resource managers should be inclined to recognise that the problem stems from the individual to the group level. The problem of an individual might result in that person staying away from work as a form of protest. When it comes to a group, members could resort to this action as a means of drawing attention to an issue or concern, which is not receiving an expected response.
The safety and health concerns, poor management, the imposition of an autocratic leadership style, changes in policies, poor internal communication, lack of employee involvement in the decision-making process, a hostile working environment and poor working conditions, all contribute to the problem of absenteeism.
Generally there is a tendency to blame employers for the fall out. In bringing a balance to this, it is fair to state that employees are equal contributors. It starts with the indifferent attitude of some workers. They operate on the premise that sick leave is a right in law. Herein lies the problem.
There are those who believe that they must utilise the sick leave days due in a calendar year. Workers should understand that sick leave is an entitlement which should not be abused.
Those who practice taking sick leave as if it were vacation leave, ought to understand that sick days are not counted as part of the pensionable years of service. For example, a public officer who seeks to have the maximum pension benefits on retirement after supposedly completing thirty-three and one third years in the Public Service, might find that he/she does not qualify, if that individual did not work for a long enough period of time, to make good for the total periods of sick leave taken, prior to serving notice of the intention to retire.
Some would argue that this problem of absenteeism is deeply rooted in the indifference of some workers; particularly those who use sick leave indiscriminately. Although there are concerns about the quantum of sick leave being taken by workers, any questioning of certified sick leave cannot be entertained, unless there is overwhelming available evidence to suggest that the employee is not genuinely ill.
Based on our existing protocols, this can only be satisfied by way of the individual being subject to a medical examination. What happens in the instance where the employee refuses to submit to another examination, or is not obligated to do so, since it does not form part of the individual contract of service, or the collective bargaining agreement?
Admittedly, the abuse of sick leave by some employees is as a result of the inability to handle the stress that the workplace throws out. To avoid the stress, the individual attempts to remove himself/herself from the workplace for a temporary period. This is only a temporary solution for the employee. In such instance, remedy may be found in the exercise of good leadership and management.
In many cases there are two reasons that contribute to employees temporarily removing themselves from the workplace. They are job satisfaction and relationship problems with management/supervisory management. These are two areas that management should pay close attention. It is unwise to take people for granted.
Where management fails to pay attention to the needs and issues affecting its employees will certainly sow the seeds that will germinate in chronic absenteeism. Heed should therefore be taken to expeditiously addressing employees’ concerns.
* Dennis de Peiza is a Labour Management Consultant with Regional Management Services Inc.
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