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  • Writer's pictureLeanne Brownoff

Memo to Business Owner: Stop contributing to staff’s sick time!

At the beginning of each fiscal year I guide my clients through the process of creating goals and KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators). Inevitably the following questions arise,

“In this economy, how can we be more effective?

How can we achieve our targets with scaling costs and stiffer competition?“

These loaded questions are multi-facetted but often have a solution that is right under the business owner’s nose…and, if it is not the entire solution, it is a key ingredient.

While deciding on the best strategies to attain revenue goals and reduce profit erosion, there will be creative and lively discussions that focus on automation, product, service and marketing initiatives.

However, redirecting attention onto HR strategies and fine-tuning your business culture will likely pay you the greatest dividends.

It comes as no surprise that the most substantial line item, when forecasting business expenses, is typically salaries. So when it comes time to decide where to focus effort, may I strongly suggest you look at your most valuable assets- your staff and the environment that they are expected to perform in.

In Canada, the 2011 business statistics reported an average 9.3 sick days taken, per employee, equating to a loss of $16.6 Billion. In 2018, this number rose to 10 sick days on average, per employee per year. The dollar value for this loss in productivity is not yet available. The reason for an increase in sick time is complex. These statistics also, only scratch the surface for comprehensive loss to an individual business.

The smaller the business, the more devastating the impact sick time can have, as employees routinely serve multiple roles with insufficient back up. Sick time can develop bottlenecks causing crippling effects in other departments, negatively impacting the business' bottom line.

Larger companies may have more staff available to assume additional tasks but they are not immune to the devastation of employees who choose to come to work spreading illness. Even if the illness is not contagious, a listless employee is less productive and can set the tone for entire departments.

What’s an owner to do???

Start with awareness. Increase your understanding of the underlying problem and commit to making changes to the culture of your business.

Yes!! Your business culture could very well be providing the perfect growth medium for discontent and emotional deprivation leading your employees to a path of chronic illness.

When asked, employees’ top reasons for their sick time often include:

  • Migraines

  • Cold/ flu symptoms

  • Gastro Intestinal (Food Poisoning)

  • Child is sick

Sadly, when these situations become routine, it catches management’s attention, often from the perspective of the negative impact on the business’ bottom line and not from the perspective of the employee.

But what if the stated reasons are only symptoms of an underlying problem with the work environment?

Did you know that the part of your brain- the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex- that registers and processes physical pain (say a broken bone or a pulled muscle) is the very same area that is stimulated with psychological pain? In fact the body doesn’t distinguish the origin of the pain, simply that it is pain and needs to be healed.

To go a step further, research using highly sensitive fMRI scans (function magnetic resonance imaging that measures and maps brain activity), has shown irrefutable evidence that feelings of exclusion triggers the pain centres in the brain. So “you hurt my feelings” is more real than you might think.

Social rejection, bullying or the sense of failing, are all situations that could be happening in your business. It is now realized that ostracism can diminish one’s sense of personal control and purpose and if not corrected can manifest into chronic health issues. When an employee exhibits changes in their attendance and performance, there is likely an underlying problem that has been going on for some time.

As I mentioned previously, this is a complex issue. There are obviously many situations that happen outside of your control including, preexisting health conditions, work-life balance challenges and external stressors. You may not be completely responsible, but you can set the tone for a healthy business environment, a critical building block for an effective employee.

How to create a healthy business environment:

1) Hone your awareness skills. Observe situations from the perspective of what is the underlying problem rather than a place of blame. Listen to your staff. Ensure you check with current Human Rights legislature to guide you.

2) Commit to rectify all negative psychological situations. Create a comprehensive sick time policy and ensure all employees (existing and new hires) are aware of it.

3) Research methods of reducing both physical and psychological stress and offer training for managers and staff.

4) In your Employee Handbook, create a Culture Policy that includes practices that your business will deliver consistently: For example, zero tolerance to bullying with specific actions and consequences.

5) Follow up. Creating and enforcing a healthy culture is your responsibility but it may take several tweaks to get it right.

Other suggestions supporting healthy work-life balance include, but are not limited to:

  • Flexible work schedule (within reasonable business requirements)

  • A comprehensive health and benefits plan (for the size and scope of your business)

  • Resources for sensitive topics: mental health counsellors, abuse lines, addiction (including gambling, drugs, alcohol), so that your staff has the information to act personally

  • Optional services such as gym memberships or in-house programs (some businesses provide yoga instruction after work)

  • Create fun social activities regularly to build community and help to balance busy seasons that can stress staff.

It may seem like a lot of work, but when you remind yourself that your employees are your most valuable assets, creating a healthy environment with less sick time will undoubtedly help to answer those tough questions regarding how you will effectively meet your targets.

Leanne Brownoff is a Business Coach, Speaker and Author of Freezing My Ass Off on Kilimanjaro:

the entrepreneur's survival guide for building traction on a changing business terrain.

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