Today's post comes to us from the executive director of The Workforce Institute, Dr. Chris Mullen, Ph.D., SHRM-SCP, SPHR.

This coming Sunday's 2021 Super Bowl, like so much of life these days, is going to be unlike anything we've ever experienced. Played in a stadium filled only to about one third it's capacity and largely by vaccinated healthcare workers, it's another example of those annual events we think of as permanent and inevitable that this Pandemic has shown us are anything but.

I, for one, am glad that the show will go on in some capacity. I'm a lifelong Eagles fan, so don't have strong feelings about the Brady/Mahomes showdown, but I know I'll enjoy watching the game and the ads that accompany it each year which will also, understandably, look quite different from past years.

Another Super Bowl tradition we are keeping alive this year is our annual Workforce Institute Super Bowl survey about how many people are planning to be absent from work the day after The Super Bowl. This is a survey that we have run periodically since The Workforce Institute was formed in 2007 (it actually started two years before that by Kronos). This survey was always meant to be a fun way (speculating about how many people would overdo it on wings and frosty beverages and decide to call into work the next day) to elevate an important issue: unplanned absenteeism.

While some unplanned absences - when an employer isn't given advance notice that an employee will be out - are unavoidable (real sick days, many personal days), they can be much more disruptive and costly to organizations than planned absences, so the idea is to avoid them when possible. This means making sure that employees feel comfortable taking time off when they want to or need to, and there's a lot organizations can do to foster this: open communication between managers and employees, a clear time off policy, and creating a culture where employees feel empowered and encouraged to take care of their own mental and physical health before anything else.

So, what did this year's survey show?

When it comes to the issue of unplanned absenteeism:

New this year (and hopefully for this year only!), we looked at the issue of dangers around getting together to watch the game in person during a pandemic:

Bottom line? I'd encourage employers to take this week to communicate openly and honestly with employees about their Super Bowl plans. Let your employees know that you recognize how hard they have been working and what a stressful time this has been for everyone. If they want to take Monday off, help them make that happen if at all possible. Encourage them to join the majority of folks from our survey who plan to celebrate safely - at home with their household or outdoors in a socially-distanced way with friends. Most importantly, make sure they know they can be honest with you about what they actually do, so that you can ensure that risky behavior off the clock will not put coworkers, customers, or communities at risk when they're back on the clock.

Will you plan to take the Monday after the Super Bowl off? What do you think employers should do to encourage transparency with employees when it comes to taking time off? Tell us about it in the comments section.

Today's post is submitted by Joyce Maroney, executive director of the Workforce Institute.

Every year about this time, Super Bowl fever starts to grip the nation. Here in Massachusetts - or Patriots Nation as it's known locally - fans are so sure the Patriots will be in the big game that it feels like a big failure when they are not. Even for somebody like me who doesn't otherwise follow football, the big game is exciting. Getting together to watch the game (or half time show and commercials for me) is a fun ritual. Everything about the Super Bowl is excessive, including the party snacks, drinks, and lost sleep

Lots of people here and around the country will miss work due to the after affects of their Sunday evening revelry. Our newest research tells us that an estimated 17.2 million American workers say they may not go to work the Monday after Super Bowl LIII. Nearly 22 million employees may go into work late, leave early, or work remotely/from home on Monday. There are a number of additional interesting nuggets in this research:

Perhaps you feel this absence challenge is inevitable for employers, but there are things you can do to mitigate the impact of the pigskin on your work environment. Below, we've collected some of our favorite advice and resources to help you manage that post-game slump, beginning long before the game. Read on and enjoy the Big Game on Sunday!

Today's post is submitted by Joyce Maroney, Executive Director of the Workforce Institute.  Black Friday is upon us, and retailers everywhere are scrambling to get ready for lots of shoppers and extended hours to staff.  Are you ready?

No-shows, call-outs, and last-minute schedule changes aren't just frustrating–unplanned absence is corrosive to the day-to-day operations at retail stores across the globe.

According to a recent survey by The Workforce Institute at Kronos Incorporated, retail managers across six global regions revealed that last-minute absenteeism leaves their stores understaffed a quarter of the time, while more than half of retailers surveyed (52 percent) cited unplanned absence as one of their organization's most difficult, complex, and time-consuming issues.

The pervasive issue of unplanned absence

Regardless of country, employee head count, or sector–from grocery to warehouse, convenience, or department stores–the challenges posed by unplanned absence are universally felt and can directly impact a store's bottom line: Retailers surveyed acknowledge that at least one in 10 in-store labor hours budgeted is wasted due to staffing misalignment resulting from absenteeism.

“Imagine if companies were wasting 10 percent of their product, or losing 10 percent of their revenue. Retailers would immediately put in place a task force to solve the issue,” says Workforce Institute at Kronos board member Mark Wales, a leading retail industry advisor and global expert in next-generation workforce management. “However, with workforce management being a traditionally less-than-sexy topic, this flies under the radar and the consequences of unplanned employee absence, although severe, are far from being resolved at most organizations.”

This isn't to say that retailers haven't been working to get ahead of the absence curve. Particularly as the holiday shopping season draws near, it's not uncommon for managers to proactively overschedule a busy shift in anticipation that associates may call out. Yet this attempt to address the problem can often lead to more issues: Without accurate and actionable data to inform when and where additional staff support will be needed, overscheduling can lead to wasted labor hours–both for managers and their staff, who ultimately feel underutilized and unchallenged.

On the flip side, managers who don't overschedule run the risk of needing to fill vacant shifts on the fly. This causes unnecessary stress for store managers who find it challenging to deal with associates working additional shifts beyond their scheduled hours–especially if they incur overtime. The impact of filling these shifts on short notice also means that one in four (26 percent) retailers are working with staff that have the wrong skills or a lack of skills at least half the time. Not to mention, tapping into overtime and increasing individual workloads can swiftly impact morale of current employees–in fact, they've been found to be two of the three largest contributors to burnout.

Smart solutions for smarter workforce management

It remains challenging to identify the root causes of unplanned absence, and the study suggests retailers may not be doing all they can to address the issue. Findings reveal that only about half (55 percent) of retailers worldwide have technology in place to help manage unplanned absence compared to three-quarters of retailers using automated technologies to track time and attendance (76 percent) and manage planned absence (73 percent). And although more than half (59 percent) of retailers worldwide believe scheduling technology has a positive impact on staff productivity, more than a quarter (28 percent) are still using either spreadsheets or pen and paper to manage staff schedules.

Most retailers are embracing at least some workforce technology–yet increased adoption, particularly of solutions that specifically manage unplanned absence, would enable more managers to identify and analyze stable schedules that promote strong teams, assign shifts based on associates' preferred availability, and automate shift-swapping approvals to ensure real-time coverage for vacant shifts.

But there's good news for retailers hungry for new technologies that can help solve their staffing issues. Not only do these solutions already exist, but they're getting smarter. Recent innovations have delivered workforce management technology that can meet the expectations of workers who otherwise run their lives on their smartphones.  Retailers can provide their associates with friendly self service solutions that support their needs for flexibility by empowering them to use those smartphones to request time-off, swap a shift, or request a schedule change.  Employees who can collaborate with their managers to select shifts that fit their needs are less likely to call out at the last minute.   At the same time, those solutions can also capture the attendance patterns and labor insights managers need to effectively schedule their teams and drive sales.

Boosting both employee engagement and the bottom line

Solving the unplanned absence equation can significantly reduce operating costs.  According to the U.S. Department of Labor, labor costs on average represent as much as one-fifth of retailers' total revenue. According to retail managers in our survey, a new absence and shift-swapping solution has the potential to reduce overall labor costs by nearly 3 percent.  In addition, our retailers worldwide are optimistic that an effective absence management solution could reduce unapproved absence rates by 18 percent on average.

The key is to empower employees with technology that enables them to manage their work schedules in a way that simultaneously supports their need for flexibility while still delivering the coverage and productivity required by their employers.  Accurate and automated absence management technology can allow managers and teams to collaborate more effectively to maximize productivity and deliver an exceptional customer experience.

Now more than ever, retailers have an opportunity to deliver a differentiated customer experience by investing in technology that will enhance their associates experience.  Associates who can work the hours they need while still attending to their lives outside of work are going to be more engaged, loyal, and effective at work.  And they're going to be the kind of ambassadors who'll keep your customers coming back for more.

This article by Joyce Maroney was originally published in Chain Store Age.

Shopper photo originally published in the Boston Globe.

In the last few weeks, I've had a variety of media conversations about sick time abuse following up on a Bloomberg BusinessWeek story in which I was quoted - The Sick Day Bounty Hunters.  This story is principally about organizations who are hiring private investigators to track employees who are suspected of malingering.   In a television segment I did with Channel 5 in Boston this week, workers interviewed by the anchor shrugged off the occasional faked sick day as an entitlement for hard working employees.  Per my comments in the article, it's likely that sick time abuse is expanding due to lowering employee engagement; i.e. as the impact of the recession continues,  more people are remaining in their jobs due to lack of alternatives.  These disenfranchised workers use available sick time to escape.

The media interest in this story was focused on the employer snooping angle, but the bigger story is really the economic impact of unplanned absences.  A joint study published by Kronos and Mercer in June 2010 revealed that unplanned absences (incidental and extended disability absences) account for 8.7% of US Payroll costs in a given year.   What I find interesting about all of this is that paid sick time is not a federally mandated worker benefit in the US (like minimum wage and overtime requirements), but rather a benefit that employers voluntarily offer to meet union requirements or remain competitive in labor markets where paid sick time is commonly offered.

So, many employers don't have to offer sick time, but most do in order to remain competitive in the labor market.  Many employees, on the other hand, not only see paid sick time as an entitlement, but use it as a means to expand paid vacation time (also not federally mandated in the US).

What's the solution to sick time abuse? Sick time abuse is a symptom, not a disease.  Employers should offer paid sick time off (and are mandated to do so in 163 nations around the world) to help employees recover from their own illnesses and participate in the care of their sick family members.   Equally important, employers need to reinforce a culture in which workers are encouraged to stay home when they're sick but motivated to be at work when they're not.

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