March 2019

What Blind Spot?

Some may know this, but it’s safe to say most people don’t know that 25% of employees avoid conflict by calling in sick or being absent from work, and more than one third of employee turnover is due to conflicts. A correlation exists between high rates of absenteeism and workplace conflict.

When faced with an employee who misses work at a higher than normal rate, the assumption that something is wrong with the employee – he/she has a poor work ethic, he is under the influence, a family is chronically ill, he/she is going through a tough divorce. In the majority of cases it is something that is outside the work environment.

Yet, 25% is a big number, and too many companies miss this factor as a driver of absenteeism. Most companies are becoming more aware that unresolved conflict in the workplace is a factor in an employee’s decision to leave, but many employers still miss the link to absenteeism.

What follows is an extract from a typical article found on the internet on this subject, and in typical fashion it focuses on fixing whatever is wrong by focusing on compliance to company rules and procedures. The article states, in part;

“…supervisors are often the only people who are aware that a certain employee is absent. They are in the best position to understand the circumstances surrounding an individual’s absence and to notice a problem at an early stage. Therefore, their active involvement in the company’s absence procedures is pivotal to the overall effectiveness and future success of an absence policy or program.

To ensure that supervisors are comfortable and competent in their role of managing absenteeism, they need to have the full support of senior management. All parties must be aware of the aim of absence policies and procedures. Should there be discrepancies between departments; a policy can lose its effectiveness.

To provide more consistency, supervisors should be trained in their responsibilities about managing absenteeism, advised how to conduct effective return-to-work interviews, and educated in the use of disciplinary procedures when necessary.

In addition to ensuring that work is appropriately covered during the employee’s absence, there are a number of other critical actions that supervisors need to take to manage absenteeism. They should:

• ensure that all employees are fully aware of the organization’s policies and procedures for dealing with the absence,• be the first point of contact when an employee phones in sick
• maintain appropriately detailed, accurate, and up-to-date absence records for their staff, (e.g., date, nature of illness/reason for absence, the expected return to work date, doctor’s certification if necessary),
• identify any patterns or trends of absences which cause concern,
• conduct return-to-work interviews
• implement disciplinary procedures where necessary….”

The author of this article is absolutely correct in outlining a series of issues and steps that someone in a supervisory role should follow in order to combat the majority of issues related to absenteeism. I take nothing away from this article in terms of its core theme, and the writer lays out his recommendations based on a solid foundation.

Yet, this and other articles like it almost never look at internal drivers. If 25% of all absenteeism is driven by conflict, clearly managers and supervisors have a blind spot that is causing them to miss-hit in a manner that is costing them millions of dollars.

The impact on the broader business landscape in terms of dollars and cents can’t be overstated. I gently remind my readers of my letter last year, $359 Billion and You Are Responsible. Blind spots matter, and companies ignore them at their peril.

In that letter I noted that the Myers-Briggs organization had conducted an extensive study on the impact of unresolved conflict calculated in financial terms. It covered a wide range of functions and activities that are impacted by conflicts that are not addressed in a timely manner.

What I also noted in that letter is that facts matter. You can’t discover the blind spot by pointing to a procedure or by enforcing compliance to a set of declarative statements. Managers and supervisors need to start asking questions far earlier than they may think necessary.

By definition, you can’t see what’s in the blind spot. Every time someone gets in a car and doesn’t adjust the side mirrors correctly, he or she will be driving with a blind spot on both sides of the car, and engages in the risky behavior of looking over one’s shoulder or the other to see if there is anyone in his/her blind spots.

The analogy applies to most business environments today. Few companies admit their practices, and the behavior of managers and supervisors drive bad behavior by employees.

In another article I read recently, the writer talks about employees who don’t have the option of leaving their job, and resort to taking medication to help them get through the day because they have job environments rife with chronic conflicts.

Companies today spend a lot of money on surveys. They survey employees for many reasons, not the least of which is they want to stay competitive, and they want to provide accurate information within their compliance obligations. This is a good trend and they need to continue.

I believe companies need to conduct a survey on absenteeism every three years or so. Because of its statistical relationship to conflict in the workplace, surveys about absenteeism are an important tool in disclosing information about work environments in a company and their impact on the employees’ performance.

In this age of Survey Monkey and other online survey formats, conducting such surveys is far less expensive than it used to be, they are as anonymous as traditional surveys, but are a far more flexible and dynamic tool than past practices.

Food for Thought: A moment of patience in a moment of anger saves you a hundred moments of regret. (A truism found on internet memes, and multiple blogs).

Through my company I support organizations that help small businesses become more successful. If you know anyone looking to start a business encourage them to visit the Services Cooperative Association website at www.servicesca.org. The organization celebrates 36 years of success on Thursday, March 14. Invite them to attend the anniversary celebration at noon tomorrow, which is being hosted by Jim McIngvale of Gallery Furniture at his store on I-45.

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