Sick or sick of work?

“What? Again he’s on emergency leave eh?” moaned Collin over the phone. According to my golfing buddy-cum-car accessories entrepreneur, this particular employee has been regularly taking emergency leave over the last three months.

I asked perhaps it was indeed his poor health and not laziness as alleged by his boss. Collin does not seem to buy into that reasoning. Like many business owners, an employee is often thought to be “lazy and dispassionate” when handing in emergency leaves.

According to a recent article by HR Magazine, SME bosses put chatting about weather before addressing staff mental health! A survey of 250 business bosses and senior management in SMEs found that one in four were not confident about recognising ill health, stress or depression among their employees.

The following is an extract of the article: 

  • It is estimated that mental health problems such as stress cost the UK economy £26 billion a year in absence, presenteeism and staff turnover, and in a small business environment, absence can create additional stress for those employees left picking up the additional workload.
  • Absence due to work-related stress remains a problem for UK business, with 10.8 million working days lost in 2010/11, according to figures from independent health watchdog, HSE.

 About 24% of SME owners confess they would rather not speak to anyone about a problem raised by an employee than seek professional advice on how to deal with it.

  • Over 41% of small business owners admitted that they never speak to employees about their physical or mental health. It seems that many employers feel that this is an invasion of privacy – the most commonly cited reason for not addressing staff health anxieties.
  • That 30% of SME bosses believe it is ‘none of their business’ to get involved in the situation.
  • More than 55% stated they regularly discuss the weather with an employee but only 27% would discuss an employee’s health, sparking concern that employers do not feel well-equipped to tackle these trickier, personal conversations.

I emailed this article to Collin immediately after reading it, and he replied: “Each week without fail, I received SMS and phone calls in the morning citing stomach aches, fatigue and headaches. All these are costing us time and money!” (Absences from the workplace cost an estimated US$225.8 billion per year in the U.S.)

Seeking out a HR friend for her thoughts on this, I forwarded the following advice from her to Collin:

  • Discuss their problems in a one-to-one basis that may be hindering their ability to work whether health-related, family conflicts or personal problems.
  • Present rewards, prizes, company perks and privileges for unbroken monthly and yearly attendance.
  • Make sure your staffs know clearly that unexplained, unjustifiable, or unexcused absences simply won’t be tolerated in the company. Identify, warn, and terminate employees who flagrantly violate your attendance policy. Do everything necessary to stamp out the attitude before it becomes an unwanted habit amongst the rest of the staffs.
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