Are detectives the answer to your absenteeism woes?

07 January 2016 -


Some employers have had enough of their staff pulling sickies and have called in private investigators to uncover work-shy employees

Jermaine Haughton

Staff who regularly “pull a sickie” incur significant costs (and headaches) for their employer, with it often damaging team morale and the company bottom line.

Recruiting a great team of workers takes substantial time, money and patience, and the ultimate slap-in-the-face is when a talented worker fails to turn up for the duties they’re paid to do. The majority of unscheduled leave cases are taken by staff genuinely suffering from an illness, but a survey of 1,000 British employees found that nearly 60% of workers have taken time off sick in the past three years despite not actually being ill.

Furthermore, false absenteeism is considered a problem at more than a quarter (28%) of companies. The losses in efficiency, productivity and the demoralisation of staff make absence management a critical part of a manager’s responsibilities.

Research, conducted by workforce management solutions company Timeware found that the reasons given for work absence were varied, including childcare problems (20%), relationship issues (17%), hangovers (7%), family issues (5%) and job dissatisfaction (3%). This is not to mention employees who fake an illness due to their involvement with secondary employment or running a separate business.

Time To Hire An Investigator?

Managing false absenteeism is very difficult, as some managers have a fear of wrongly accusing a sick employee of lying, and potentially damaging the harmony of the office. Faced with this dilemma, plus the challenge of keeping on top of complex legislation and legal developments, some managers are opting to hire external investigative services.

Some SMEs are attracted to professional services as they have trained and experienced individuals who provide a combination of covert video footage, photographs and evidence reports and are contracted to promise each piece was obtained with full credibility and integrity.

Leading detective agency Expert Investigations has reported an increase in the number of false absenteeism cases they investigate, stating that they experience a continuous rise in enquiries each month. In one recent case, a client from the manufacturing sector requested that the agency investigate an employee who was off long-term with stress and depression.

Following observation, the company discovered that the suspect had set up a business with a family member and an additional business for while he carried out maintenance work on a number of properties.

After the evidence was produced, the company immediately dismissed the employee.

David Kearns, managing director of Expert Investigations, said: “Businesses in all sectors are affected by false absenteeism, which largely impacts on productivity and costs. Companies often become aware of issues but don’t understand the lawful resources that are available to help them deal with such issues.

“We lawfully gather, preserve and present the evidence and where appropriate deal with managers as they take the issue through the civil, or discipline route.”

Other alternatives?

While detectives may be useful in finding false absentees, managers must also introduce clear practices and policies to make it less appealing for employees to take unscheduled leave, while protecting those with genuine illness.

Simon Macpherson, senior director of operations at Kronos EMEA, advises managers to prioritise the measurement of employee unscheduled leave, operate back-to-work interviews with sick staff and offer rewards to consistently present workers to tackle the issue.

“If you don’t have one already, an absence policy to balance employee and employer needs is the first step to addressing any potential problems, he said. “Less than half of organisations monitor the cost of absence, and it can be a costly mistake.

“At Kronos Works 2012, the global workforce management conference which Kronos held, one representative from a leading UK grocery retailer admitted that when he started measuring attendance, the retailer immediately discovered 50 ghost employees – people still being paid a salary long after they left the organisation. Shocked? Are you 100% sure it’s not happening in your workplace?”

He added: “Rigidly enforce the absence policy. It needs to be monitored and enforced quickly, consistently and fairly to curb unscheduled absence and unauthorised sick days – more than half of employed adults believe that their work performance is negatively impacted when attendance policies are not fairly enforced.”

Following a 2013 study by global auditor PwC that estimated the cost of absenteeism to be at least £29bn per year in the UK, HR consulting partner Richard Phelps also proposed that British employers should follow the example of American businesses by investing more in the health of their workforce.

Find out how the NHS is getting its staff fit with free Zumba classes

“US firms tend to take greater responsibility for staff well-being, whether providing gyms in the workplace or access to councillors", Phelps said. Moreover, keeping staff engaged was "arguably the biggest part of the battle", he added.

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