Absence Intelligence: The New AI in HR

Posted: 04/01/2020 - 00:12
AI in HR

Just about every company monitors when its staff is absent, whether on a planned holiday or sick, and has a policy for how much leave its employees are entitled to. However, very few go any deeper than this. Absence is observed, but most companies do not see the implications of certain trends or ensure compliance across a global workforce, much less take any proactive steps to help their staff on absence-related issues. More serious HR issues are often below the surface – whether that’s a company-wide failure to comply with local legislation, "absence abuse" or lack of visibility into employee mental or physical well-being.

These unseen issues are keeping companies in the "absence intelligence" dark ages, which can cost organizations in terms of money, reputation and employee health. So, what can we do about it?

The Tip Of The Iceberg

It’s easy for HR departments to address everyday considerations around their workforce, without considering more complex problems that don’t immediately present themselves.

For example, something on the mind of any business leader is productivity decrease due to wasted time on admin. Running absence management on paper or excel spreadsheets means departments such as HR, payroll or finance waste too much time and resources keeping track of what is going on with their employees. The obvious issue that HR might focus on is ensuring line managers have a good overview of when their direct reports are on holiday.

Look a little deeper, however, and you see a problem emerge around well-being management. Without a system that allows companies to clearly track and display employee absence data into one platform, it’s almost impossible for managers and HR staff to know how much sick leave a person is taking. Frequent unplanned absence, a sign that all might not be well, could also go unnoticed.

Under The Surface

The biggest underlying threat is the lack of compliance with the local holiday and sickness rules of the countries in which businesses operate. Rules and regulations regarding leave vary greatly from country to country. From Hungary and its legal requirement that employees take all their holiday entitlement each year, to France and its RTT (Reduction du Temps de Travail), which are work-time reductions that can be taken on top of leave allowance. If your business is global and operates in several countries at once, abiding by all the different systems can soon turn into a headache. Many systems are not fully compliant, which creates vast issues with businesses not meeting the legal requirements in the countries affected.

Another underlying issue is unplanned absences. Without clear visibility of all unplanned absence taken by your staff, problems soon arise. Being left in the dark can have dramatic consequences for your business, including losing out on talent, falling behind strategic objectives and ultimately, losing revenue.

A further hidden issue is employee engagement, which is heavily informed by employee wellbeing. Indeed, employees who are well taken care of are far more likely to be engaged with their work. Businesses need to properly care for their staff, with a mix of attractive incentives and a culture that focuses on employee well-being. If the culture fails those things, various issues can creep up, such as employee burnout, disengagement, presenteeism and personal issues. All of these are likely to have a negative impact on employee well-being.

Three Tips to Improve Your Absence Intelligence

  • Aim for more transparency. Invest in systems that digitize HR processes and store the data in an efficient and compliant way. Ensure data storage is compliant with the different countries in which you operate and be particularly mindful of GDPR.
  • Put people at the heart of your strategy. Your employees need to inform your HR and absence management practices. Run surveys or group question sessions, ask for their opinion and what would make their lives easier when it comes to absence management. Would they like a more discretionary sick leave system? A quicker annual leave booking process? Would they benefit from an Employee Assistance Programme? What about telemedicine? Or flexible working to attend medical appointments? Link your absence intelligence gathering to healthcare offerings within one overarching HR system.
  • Collect unplanned absence data. Many organizations collect this data, but in an inefficient way that prevents them from analyzing it. By collecting absence data more efficiently, businesses can spot patterns and trends quickly and intervene to help employee well-being. To achieve this, you will need a system with in-depth reporting functionality, conveying the information you need efficiently and effectively. For instance, using automated Bradford Factor scoring, you can set trigger points to alert you should any employees show potentially damaging patterns of absenteeism. That way, you can step in and offer assistance before the issue becomes a significant problem.

Absence intelligence is part of a proper business strategy. By going the extra mile in collecting and properly analyzing workforce data, companies can ensure they stay people-first in their business approaches.


About The Author

Steve Arnold's picture

Steve is the CEO of e-days, the global absence management platform which provides mid-market and large-scale companies with an effective answer to complex requirements. Having studied Law and Marketing before completing an MBA at Warwick Business School, Steve moved into the complex and rapidly-developing world of absence management space in 2008.