Planning for absenteeism during COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought upon the world the biggest public health crisis in modern history. Reported cases of infection have ranged anywhere from thousands to millions over the past few months. Since its onset in 2019 and subsequent outbreaks worldwide, management in organizations across the globe have had to reckon with the challenges that have been brought on by this formidable catastrophe. One of the chief concerns that have cropped up is the problem of unplanned absenteeism among workers.

Worker absenteeism during COVID-19

Worker absenteeism can be costly to organizations. According to a report by the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), employers in the US accumulated losses equivalent to $225.8 billion in a year due to health-related employee absenteeism.

A number of factors have contributed to the rising rate of absenteeism in the workplace. Many workers contract the disease that renders them unfit to work. In case of minor symptoms, employees are often encouraged to work from home in adherence to the self-isolation guidelines mandated by public health organizations. However, in cases of severe ailment, workers must be entirely absent until their health permits them to join work. Fear of infection has similarly kept away many from their workplace. Workers may also have to take leave in case of family emergencies. Further, the vaccines for COVID-19 that are now being seen as absolutely necessary to combat the raging pandemic are often accompanied by complications and symptoms that debilitate the receiver for a certain period of time.

Managers and Human Resource personnel recognize these issues as legitimate. The onus falls on them to bring out strategies to cope with absenteeism to ensure the success of their business enterprises without invalidating the concerns and anxieties of their employees. Over the past year and a half as the world moved towards a “new normal”, many establishments have come up with simple and ingenious solutions to battle this problem.

Managers must come to terms with the fact that in a global pandemic employee absenteeism is to be expected. It is important to be supportive and accommodating of employees recovering from sickness. The situation today demands alertness and preparedness of the management. They should anticipate unplanned absences to avoid overwhelming other workers and manage other complexities that arise due to being understaffed. Such considerations made by the management allow an organization to treat its workers with respect and humanity. The resulting goodwill among employees makes a satisfied and dedicated workforce.

Previous systems of tracking attendance have been made obsolete by the pandemic as they do not take into account the exigencies of the present work environment and the needs of the workforce of today. This has required an updated policy that will allow an organization to identify the valid absenteeism from the negligent. Managers need to deploy their judgment to gauge the sincerity of their workers. Imposing a level of discipline in the workplace provides an incentive to workers to not be absent frequently. Evaluating leave requests and assessing the fitness of the employees to work is a tremendous task in the present day and must be undertaken carefully.

Traditional workplace systems are also unsuitable today. Creating a workplace that ensures all workers maintain social distancing at all times is an extremely expensive undertaking. Employers can work around this by identifying those personnel that requires to be on-site and encouraging the rest of their employees to work from home. This reduces the risk of cross-infection among employees as the physical workplaces are populated by fewer individuals and those working remotely can do so from the safety and comfort of their residence. By reducing contact and physical interaction between workers, the management can be assured that a significant part of their workforce will be physically fit and productive.

A versatile workforce is the need of the hour. Employers must recruit candidates with or train their existing employee base to acquire a skill set that is multifaceted. This ensures that in case of absence, the work can be effectively transferred to other employees. A multiskilled workforce can cope with the delegation of a variety of tasks to them better than a specialized workforce. It is also a good strategy to assemble a team of individuals who can provide backup and act as stand-ins in case of emergencies. Organizations may also hire freelancers or outsource some of the work to agencies providing support and assistance to avoid missing deadlines and targets. Consignment of certain tasks to outsourcing companies while assigning the essential tasks to the organizations’ own employees is an effective way to maintain productivity even when the office is undermanned.

Workforce management and survival of businesses in the pandemic

The survival of businesses today depends on their flexibility and their ability to adapt to change. Organizations must exploit the advantages of technology to the fullest. It is an area company should invest in as the returns are significant both in the short run as well as in the long run. Technology can minimize the impact of absenteeism on operations. Equipped with the right resources, professionals can discharge their duties with better accuracy and in less time. This consistently yields benefits over a sustained period. Many firms have benefited greatly by automating certain tasks that have alleviated the need for personnel entirely.

To avoid delays and disruption, it is important for the management to ensure coordination and effective communication throughout the chain of command in the organization. The employees and managers must be infrequent dialogue to ensure that accurate and up-to-date information regarding operations, deadlines, targets, and goals are available to everyone and issues arising from unforeseen or unannounced absences can be immediately resolved.

Workforce management has always been one of the most important responsibilities of the managers in a firm. The pandemic has only increased its importance in recent years as companies have to navigate the risks to their employees and to their businesses on a daily basis today. By implementing small solutions and certain innovative strategies, organizations and establishments can achieve their own goals, deliver complete satisfaction to their clients an edge over competitors.

Written by Bidisha Boral for The Growup Group

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