The post Melbourne Cup “sickie” is a fine Australian tradition as old as the grand race itself, but how do you deal with it if you’ve got a business to run and fewer people to run it with?
This week punters will be out in force celebrating the race that stops a nation. Whether they win or lose, you may have to put up with a fair few dusty troops come Wednesday.
It’s probably a good thing that they’re at home lying down instead of trying to tackle spreadsheets, but you’re going to be short-staffed.
As an employer, how do you make sure that you can deal with the absence of a worker and make sure it doesn’t happen again?
1. Responding to the call
The first thing you’ve got to work out is how you’re going to deal with the invariable phone call which follows.
You know the one – employee and employer engage in some kind of pantomime where they pretend to be sick and you pretend to believe them.
There are basically two ways to handle it: you can either read them the riot act or sympathise.
While sympathy can help build an employee’s loyalty to your business in the longer term, you run the risk of entrenching bad behavior.
Whether a first offence or pattern of behaviour, it’s best to make it clear that it’s pretty unacceptable – but in the case of the repeat offender it may be a bit more strident.
Tell the employee just how this will impact your business, and more importantly how this will impact the employees who have to cover their absence.
As any loving parent can tell you, anger can be a motivator but guilt is the real kicker.
2. Time to prioritise
Assuming that the employee isn’t coming into work, you need to figure out what you really need to be done today and what can be left until later in the week.
In a small business there are usually too many things to do and never enough time to do them, but it’s about what needs to be done immediately.
You need to be at peace with the fact that you’re probably going to be running behind the whole week, but at this stage it’s basically business triage.
If you reduce the number of tasks which need to be performed in a day, then you’re already making progress on reducing the workload for the day.
3. What about those who did turn up?
The staff who turned up are going to have more work to do through no fault of their own, and it’s not going to be a pleasant day for them.
Once you’ve got tasks down to the bare essentials, break it down and outline what they’ll be doing for the day.
Often people will overestimate the amount of work they’ve got to do in the absence of a co-worker. By breaking it down you can make an employee feel a bit better about the increased workload today.
Then, you may think about incentivising them.
While you may not have capacity to pay a heightened rate for that day, there’s no reason you can’t get a little bit creative here.
For example, what if the people working on the day got to leave work on Friday an hour early?
Having to work harder because one of their colleagues decided to chuck a sickie isn’t a great motivator – but working harder for a defined reward is a better one.
4. Get your hands dirty
Once you’ve identified which tasks are non-essential, it’s time to roll up your sleeves.
You may already be a hands-on boss, but if there are things you would normally delegate it’s time to jump in and do those things.
You may spend a fair bit of your day in the back office trying to balance the accounts, but what if you were out the front, at the coal-face with your employees.
What if you were the one sweeping the floor?
Having the boss pitch in and help in a very real way shows your employees that you don’t expect them to take all the weight on their shoulders.
It makes the increased workload a shared cause rather than an edict from on high.