Another survey to depress (though not surprise) employers came out this week, this time about the prevalence of skiving, the time-honoured practice of taking time off work on false pretences.
Reported on both the BBC News and hereisthecitynews websites, the Price Waterhouse Cooper survey suggested that a full third of UK workers would admit to having lied about the nature of their absence.
Employers are well used to sudden peaks in one-day coughs and sniffles next to holidays and mysteriously coincident with major sporting events. However, the survey suggests the practice not to need any specific trigger of that sort. The three most common grounds for misrepresenting time off were a sense of entitlement at 15%, personal issues (usually related to family or domestic pets, budgies and hamsters being among the worst trouble-makers) at 21% and a general disillusionment with the job, carting off a whopping 61%. Nor are these spur-of-the-moment things – the survey reveals an impressive degree of prior planning, including the faking of symptoms in preceding days and the use of bandages, crutches and make-up for the real Oscar contenders. Skiving experts have apparently also calculated that you can take a scarcely-believable average of five dishonest days off per year before you are pinged by your employer. No wonder UK sickness absence levels are roughly double those in the US.
Employees will usually put family first, and perhaps rightly so, but one would have thought that a combination of compassionate absence and the statutory dependants leave scheme would be sufficient to meet most people’s reasonable needs in that regard. The other two reasons are both much more dangerous to employers if unchecked, especially given the conclusion from the survey that a third of staff would be more likely to lie about their absence if their colleagues appeared to get away with it. However, although the employee is clearly in the wrong – lying to one’s employer would almost certainly constitute gross misconduct – jumping heavily on him “to encourage the others” is perhaps missing the point. While heads on spikes outside HR’s door will quickly disillusion those who see their contractual holiday allowance merely as an opening gambit, they will do little to motivate and incentivise people who already feel themselves bored, depressed or taken for granted.
Employers are better advised to address those underlying problems instead. Paying staff a bonus for good attendance can work, but equally it can de-motivate once the absence threshold is hit, and surely good attendance is an implicit part of the bargain you make when you sign the employment contract in the first place.
So neither the stick nor the carrot represents a perfect solution by itself. Perhaps the answer is something simpler still – some signs of interest in and appreciation of your staff at a professional and personal level, common courtesies in the office, or the occasional varying of the type or pace of work, for example. You could even try team-building exercises, but please not the sort involving karaoke or working out in groups how to cross a stream with just thirty feet of string and an egg, since in those cases you do not need to be depressed or bored to try to make a break for it. One thing is clear – reducing skiving in your workplace need not cost you money, but it will take up your time.