• Portia Mahlalela

Seasonal illness causes rise in absenteeism over winter months

Absenteeism, defined as unscheduled time off work, tends to increase in winter months around the world, and costs the economy billions in lost time. Managing employee absence can be difficult if a clear absence management strategy does not exist in the workplace.

During the South African winter which runs from June to August, infectious illnesses make individuals sick, not necessarily the cooler weather. Employers expect absences in the workplace to be higher in winter, however some absences may be excessive. These increases are likely to be related to Illnesses that occur during seasonal changes. Employees who come down with flu or have a family member who is sick have regular interruptions to their work schedule.

According to Occupational Care South Africa, absenteeism costs the South African economy up to R16-billion a year, equating to 15% of employees being absent each day. South African companies have higher than the average absenteeism rates, meaning it is one of the most expensive problems affecting businesses.

During the winter months some individuals are more predisposed to seasonal illnesses such as those with chronic medical conditions, smokers, older workers and care takers of homes, mainly women etc., these are at risk of taking more sick leave within an organisation.

Due to the prevalence of flu in the June to August months, employees should be encouraged to consider the flu vaccine, accessible through most local pharmacies and clinics. In order to promote wellbeing, medical schemes will encourage their members to have a flu vaccination, this is dependent on the option chosen which may cover the vaccine as part of the benefits. One medical aid even partnered with a ride-hailing service and a retail pharmacy chain to bring the flu vaccine to their members’ doors.

As another preventative measure, employees should be encouraged to eat fruit with high amounts of vitamins and minerals to boost their immune system, get plenty of rest and treat any flu-like symptoms early.

Existing absenteeism and sick leave policies should assist in guiding and supporting employees and teams in the workplace, including reminding employees of the process to report absences from work, the requirement to bring a medical certificate (if indicated) and work from home options that may be available as part of recovery promotion. High absenteeism during winter season can be curbed by putting in place preventative measures before the winter months commence, and encouraging good hygiene and hand washing through the flu season.

Employers should have monitoring systems to identify employees taking too many days. HR should screen submitted medical certificates and know the impact of absenteeism through rate and cost. A good absenteeism management and attendance programme has many benefits and should form part of a broader wellness strategy which can help a business thrive.

This can be done by introducing clear reporting so the business understands absence levels, along with the different types of absence, reporting the numbers as a count of people, and a percentage, and finally, ensure there is accountability and responsibility at all levels.