The Counsellor: Why this absenteeism?
Vivek Paranjpe, Consultant & Strategic HR Advisor to Reliance Industries answers professional and ethical dilemmas faced by our readers at their workplace.
I lead the HR function for a family-run business in auto-components; I read a lot about people practices and often interact with fellow professionals as I am part of the NHRDN and also the CII western region team. Overall, I feel that our HR policies and culture is employee-friendly and I believe the benefits we provide at the plant are above industry benchmark. For the last 6 months, I have experienced an increased level of absenteeism at the plant level and this is creating huge problems in managing shifts and overall productivity. I am not sure what may be the cause as our attrition levels have remained the same. Can you recommend some way for us to find out what is happening in a structured way, so we can look at potential solutions?
It is indeed surprising that the absenteeism levels have gone up at your plant in the last 6 months, without any apparent reasons. Such sudden rise in absenteeism levels in plants can be due to many reasons, like some epidemic, political/social disturbance, union triggered non-cooperation/silent protest, accident rates being high, low morale, etc. You may also like to just check if any competitor has set up a similar plant in the catchment area where your people live, where your people are currently trying out without actually resigning.
In some cases, the absenteeism is seasonal, for example, during harvesting period, summer vacation of children, marriage season, etc. In normal cases, any plant management will have data of such seasonal fluctuations, which may not be the case in your plant since you do not know the cause.
When apparent reasons do not exist, you have no option but to go to the root causes. Multiple approaches could be deployed to understand the real reasons. Take your employees union in confidence and ask them to help you understand the reasons. If you do not have the unions, raise this question in various participative forums that may exist, such as canteen committee, safety committee, works councils, focused group meetings, etc.
You may also like to meet with absenting employees and understand the real reasons. What you get to see as a reason for absenteeism on leave applications may not be the real reason; hence special one-on-one meetings to understand the real cause may be necessary. You may also take help of social workers to investigate this issue in the localities where the bulk of your employees live. Your first line supervisors are also a good source of information since they are closer to the employees and have an emotional connect, and hence some of them may know the real reasons.
To sum up:
Go to the root cause of absenteeism. Deploy multiple strategies depending on the situation at ground level. Once you know the root cause, you can deal with the situation systematically. I will be certainly curious to know what has caused such an unpredicted situation at your plant.
You can post your questions to Vivek by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org