How to deal with sick leave abuse (14 steps for successfully reducing operational sickleave)

Imagine; A Saturday morning at 08.00am, you find out that 15% of your scheduled staff is on “Sick leave”. You will barely have enough people to open the park (if you scheduled extra people), and breaks will be reduced to 15 minutes here and there. For some of you this might sound familiar, if it does, or you want to reduce sick leave abuse in general, please read on.

This post might be relevant for more industries, but I’m going to speak from the theme and waterpark industry. Imagine the hypothetical scenario where you just started your own theme park.

You will start hopefully with a highly organised business focussed team, with a HR team to support this team of operational staff; slide attendants, lifeguards, events team, attractions staff, etc. IF you’ve done your marketing well, and the pay is on par with other companies, people will be super excited to join your theme or waterpark. Highly dedicated and properly trained, you will hopefully only have a few necessary sick leaves because at one point, sick leave is unavoidable.

But, what if you come into a country where sick leave is seen as additional holiday? Or you come into an existing theme or waterpark where there is a “sick leave culture”? Here are 14 steps in progressive order that you can implement to reduce sick leave abuse.

  1. Do your research to find out what the underlying reason is? When you ask people about their sick leave, what are the reason, why do your supervisors and team leaders think there is so much sick leave? Try to find out if there is a clear and identifyable cause (maybe everyone works over time, maybe there aren’t enough chairs (or proper) to sit on and people have lot’s of back pain.
  2. Sometimes the result of step 1 is not clear, or comes down to “culture”, how do you explain that, and how to change it? Step 2 is to Compare your own department or park to others? Check if other departments have the same problem. Is theirs better or worst? How about other companies in the same industry? Is it a department culture / industry culture / nationality culture, etc?
  3. When you’ve figured out that there is a problem and there are cases where other departments of companies have less challenges than you have, ask and implement their solutions. If that doesn’t help, implement your own ideas on how to combat to much MC (Medical Certificate)/ Sick/ medical leave.
  4. Tighten procedures. Ask employees to give in MC (Medical Certificates), to provide proof that they are really sick. Put a deadline on when this MC has to be given in IE 48 hours.
  5. Keep track of MC’s, how many per day / per week / per month and per employee. This way you can select the people with the most sick leave for a closer inspection.
  6. Have a attendance allowance. Give money for 100% attendance. Simple but very effective.
  7. Do a “Welcome back chat”, where you as the manager sit each employee down for them to explain their absence and what you or the company can do to prevent it from happening again (be careful with confidentiality). This is a great way to reduce sick leave.
  8. Call the clinic for clarification about their illness to see if there is anything that the company can do to help them in their daily work (maybe your colleague indicate that he has back pain and has a monthly MC for this case, (btw is very difficult to prove back pain….), so as a manager you can find an alternative job for this person to do, after clarifying with the clinic if this person can do sitting work for example.
  9. Select clinics that staff can go to, in order to prevent bogus sick leave being given. Ideally a clinic would give sick leave based on capability; (for example; #1, person can not do any pushing or pulling #2, person can not do heavy lifting, #3, person can not do long standing).
  10. Reward unused sick leave. Ideally monetise unused days and pay them out. There are even companies who put this “saved money / or days” into their employees’ pension.
  11. Punish too much sick leave (for non hospitalisation cases, not extending longer than 2 days). For example use a 6 day a week working schedule for people with too much sick leave, or schedule people with too much sick leave for extra morning training.
  12. Call employees on sick leave, to check up on them during their sick leave (to prevent that they are out funshopping, or doing other things than being sick)
  13. If the company provides transportation, you can force employees to report to the parks paramedics first, before going to a clinic. (be careful forcing employees to come into work on their own whilst feeling sick, transportation liability can be tricky, but i’ve seen it done).
  14. Check it out on social media. Check the employees Facebook profile / twitter or instagram for proof of real sickness. (be careful of the social implications that this has).

 

These are the tips and tricks I would use in the hypothetical situation that you would have a theme or water park struggling  with too much Sick Leave abuse, as I know many in the industry do.

Let me know what worked in parks you’ve seen or worked with?

 

 

Disclaimer: This blog post is not in any way or form affiliated, related or intended to relate my current role. All examples and information written here is meant as general information and is based on work experiences with 4 international Theme and Water park companies, and over 8 years of other hospitality experience in outdoor attractions, fitness, and hotels.

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