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Managing sickness and absences during unprecedented times and beyond

By Andy Shettle, Chief Product Officer, ER Tracker
29 April 2020

As employees settle into a new way of working, shifting tasks online and logging into video calls, they are also looking to their Human Resource (HR) teams to help them through this very stressful time.

With widespread homeworking sweeping the country, the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) has issued guidance for office workers setting themselves up at home. Encouraging employers and their employees to be practical, flexible and sensitive to each other’s situation when working remotely.

A new way of working

Looking after employees is a high priority at the moment. However, many HR professionals are facing completely new challenges. With uncertainty around when the current ‘lockdown’ will end, HR teams are figuring out how they can make remote working, work in the long-term and what tools they’ll need for the job.

Even the most seasoned of HR professionals find themselves in uncharted territory, as the
outbreak impacts existing policies, absence rates, sickness and presents the need to furlough employees. Now more than ever it’s imperative that systems and processes are in place that can help HR teams effectively manage employees, wherever they are working and ensure business continuity.

Document and record as normal

There’s nothing like a crisis to throw businesses into disorder but it’s important that HR teams keep on top of tracking and documenting any employee relations issues that arise during this time. Whether it’s recording grievances, disciplinaries, bullying or harassment cases – employees still need to be treated fairly and in accordance with the HR policies set out. No one has been through a situation like this before and it emphasises the need for businesses to be agile and adjust to changing and difficult circumstances.

Tracking employee issues

Taking steps to manage sickness and absences in a compassionate way, with easy and quick processes is key. All employees should be reminded of the business’s procedures for reporting sickness, as prompt reporting means line managers and senior management can act quickly. Arranging cover or sending key workers home to reduce the spread of the virus.

It’s equally important that any employee absences are recorded accurately over the coming weeks and months. Teams need to be able to collectively monitor absences so they can help employees return to work safely – as well as provide appropriate advice and support. This also applies to employees who have been granted furlough, taking a temporary leave of absence from the business.

With many employees working remotely, managers will need visibility of who is working, who is off sick and who has been placed on furlough. Maintaining up-to-date records allows HR teams to effectively manage absences and make informed long-term workforce decisions. Not only from a health and sickness perspective but also for wider workload planning and management.

The ‘new normal’ and beyond

Now more than ever, HR teams need to be able to track and manage employee relations cases and absences efficiently. Using paper-based systems or spreadsheets just won’t work, especially for remote employees, as they hinder HR teams and stop them collaboratively working together.

So how can HR teams pull all of this information and effectively manage a changing and dispersed workforce? The answer is to utilise cloud-based services. With information stored securely and centrally, remote teams have the access and visibility needed to manage employees in these unprecedented times and beyond.

It’s highly likely that we’ll see a long-term change to the way we work, with employees being given more opportunities to regularly work from home. Making use of cloud-based case management technology will enable businesses to better manage their employees now and in the future. By maintaining accurate records, HR teams can also analyse patterns and trends of sickness absence, helping to flag up causes of absenteeism – as well as support workforce planning.

Getting the balance right

HR is as much about processes as it is about people and having a consistent approach is vital. However, this can be challenging for employees when they are working remotely.

Having a centralised portal of information helps promote transparency and ensures teams can effectively work together. Adopting this technology now will help businesses make a smoother transition when movement restrictions are lifted and we resume our normal lives. Through careful management and dedicated software, it is possible to enable meaningful collaboration for HR teams, that gets the job done – even when everyone can’t be in the same room together.

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