How to keep your workers working

by James Menzies

CALGARY, Alta. – Trucking companies may not pay a lot of attention to absence management – but they should, says Marsh Canada’s Mark Perkins.

Perkins addressed fleet managers at a recent transportation seminar in Calgary, hosted by Marsh Canada.

He said employee absence costs Canadian companies more than $10 billion per year with that figure skyrocketing 50 per cent over the past 10 years. While the average days lost per year due to injuries is 8.5, trucking companies experience an average of 10 days lost per year.

So Perkins shared some tips on how carriers can ensure their injured workers return to the job more quickly while reducing non-culpable absences.

There are two types of workers that tend to miss work over the long-term. These tend to be smokers and employees with mental health issues, said Perkins. Just 12 per cent of all employees account for 80 per cent of health care costs. Overweight employees are often shadowed by benefit expenses that are 20 per cent higher than fit workers and an employee with depression may cost as much as 70 per cent more in health-related expenses than others, Perkins warned.

It’s a trend that’s not likely to reverse itself anytime soon, he said.

“The whole idea of stress leave – did you ever hear about that 10 years ago?” he asked the audience.

Workers that are legitimately injured can result in higher Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) premiums for carriers, so it’s important to get them back on the job as soon as they’re able. Statistics show after six months off the job, 50 per cent of employees never return to work. After a year off, 97 per cent won’t return.

“If you don’t bring them back within a year, they almost never come back,” said Perkins. He suggests providing alternative, less labour-intensive work for injured employees rather than having them sit at home, twiddling their thumbs.

“Modified work is the one trump card that you have,” he said. “It’s going to have a tremendous impact financially.”

In addition to facilitating a prompt return to action for injured workers, Perkins said it’s equally important to address poor attendance. Employee attendance should be closely monitored so if a driver or other staff member routinely calls in sick, it won’t go unnoticed.

Perkins says poor attendance from just one employee can result in: lost productivity; reduced service delivery; increased payroll costs; increased WCB and insurance premiums; and poor employee morale.

“That’s not only for the employee that’s sick, that’s also for the employees who are left picking up the slack,” he said.

Culpable absences refer to cases where the employee has control of the situation and is not entitled to the time off work.

It is always disciplinary and inexcusable. Non-culpable absences on the other hand are those that refer to incidents where the employee is legitimately sick and has no control over the situation. This type of absence is manageable.

Managers must ensure all employees are aware of their attendance expectations and that begins with the job interview and should be re-iterated in every subsequent performance review, Perkins said. Most importantly, the same rules must be applied right across the board.

“The manager must be consistent because that’s what the courts look at during wrongful dismissal lawsuits,” he pointed out.

One key is to let employees know they were missed when they return from time off work.

“Simple, supportive comments go a long way,” said Perkins. “Just go up to them and say ‘Welcome back.’ That reinforces the fact that absences are not overlooked.”

Keeping tabs on employee attendance is an excellent way to improve your company’s productivity and to lower WCB premiums, Perkins said. Marsh Canada offers services that aim to improve employee attendance. The company can also manage a carrier’s WCB claims. However, whether the job is tackled by Marsh Canada or in-house, Perkins said it won’t change things overnight.

“Managing attendance is a process, not an event,” he said, adding it generally takes eight to 12 months to make a transformation.

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