The average number of days lost to absenteeism in the public sector is ten days. But this figure is closer to five days for office based staff and higher for staff who have direct contact with the public. Much energy and research has gone into how LAs could reduce costly absenteeism. How do you tackle frequent short term absences, which are often very disruptive to the service and how do you deal effectively with long term absences which are costly and inflate the absence statistics? The answers range from better use of occupational health to tougher sanctions for frequent absences. And of course outsourcing which makes it someone else’s problem. Little attention has been paid to the group of staff who are never off sick and what makes them different.
I am particularly interested in absenteeism amongst senior managers or rather the lack of it. I have worked closely with a number of chief executives and directors over many years and they are never off sick! I can think of one chief executive who had 10 days off following an operation on his leg to correct an old rugby injury. A director who had four weeks “ working from home” after breaking one ankle and spraining another resulting from a fall due to some over enthusiastic dancing at the end of conference ball. But only once in 20 years do I remember a chief executive or director being off sick with a bad cold and that doesn’t really count as they were persuaded to go home early and were back at work the very next day.
So are those with extremely robust constitutions more likely to become chief executives and directors or is there something inherent in the post, like excessive adrenaline, which immunises them against the flu and colds that result in the rest of the workforce have time off? Is it simply that chief executives and directors are not allowed to appear to be “weak” and give in to a cold or chest infection, so they hide it. Do their partners know the truth that they collapse when they get home and spend the weekend in bed? What about the long term effects of “not giving into it” does this explain why so many take early retirement? Once they stop being a chief executive do they start picking up every cough, cold and stomach bug their grandchildren incubate?
Of course there could be another explanation. Their position and status renders them remote. They don’t meet the public, they only have close physical contact with a select few, most of the business is done on email and they are not squashed into an overcrowded open plan office. And if they want to open the window to let some fresh air in they don’t have to put it on the agenda of the next team meeting.
Blair Mcpherson www.blairmcpherson.co.uk