Wednesday, 19 August 2015
All Work and No Sickness Absence Makes Cameron a Happy Boy
If this Government had a comedy catchphrase it would surely be ‘hardworking families’.
They bloody love hard work.
Which is weird, because most of them have never done any.
Must be the mystique…
Anyway, such is their love of hard work that they are presiding over a situation where many public sector workers are now doing the jobs of two or three people, after surviving being culled during the first round of cuts. And Osborne has the cheek to email us all whilst we’re working hard to ask for ideas for more cuts. I dunno, how about the mortgage the taxpayer is paying on your paddock Gideon? Now piss off I’m busy being hardworking.
The fun isn’t done either. Some departments will be cutting 30-40% in the next five years. How much work can one person take on? It’s like career Buckaroo.
As a result of the first round of cuts, many workers are already falling ill with stress and exhaustion related illnesses. I myself was signed off for two months at the start of the year when the admin team I worked in was cut by a third and subsequent staff absence left me flying solo.
All that sick pay, the occupational health fees and temporary staffing costs; boy it’s expensive this saving money lark. Luckily it’s all ideological bollocks and there’s plenty of cash. Even more if you tax people correctly and try to do something about the offshore problem. But I digress.
The increase in pressure and the resultant increase in sickness absence has, *sarcastic voice* totally coincidentally I am sure, been compounded by a recent nasty change in the sickness absence policy.
Someone I know in a central Government department was recently signed off for two weeks with a legitimate illness, certified with a doctor’s note, caused by work related stress and exhaustion.
This person returned from their time off to the same exact issues that made them ill. They continued to be overloaded with excessive amounts of work. They continued to be given work well above their pay grade. Stressful, high profile, urgent work, with short deadlines. No possible changes to the situation were discussed, mostly because everyone knew the situation could not be improved. The team were understaffed and more cuts were coming, so the overwork would just have to continue, and probably get worse. On day three of their return they were being sent all over town to cover senior management at various meetings. At the end of week one of their return they were on their knees and felt ill again already.
Then two weeks after their return they got a letter from HR informing them that they had reached a ‘Trigger Point’ in their sickness absence record – 15 days in one year – and were on course for disciplinary action.
Being made ill by work and then punished for being ill by the people who caused you to be ill. That’s irony Alanis, pop it in your song.
The ‘Trigger Point’ is 14 days in one year. The 14 days includes weekend days.
So if you have a doctor’s note for two weeks, that’s 14 days of absence. Not 10 like you might think with your normal rational brain. 14. Saturday and Sunday. The day of rest no less. You can’t even be sick on your own time here.
The 15th day they recorded was a day that the person actually worked, but because it was during their doctor’s note (the final day of the note – which was revised to ‘may be fit for work’ to allow their return) it was counted as a sick day. Even though they were in the building working their arse off. That issue is still being appealed so may yet be rectified, as it seems ridiculous, but HR has been told this information several times and still remain insistent on disciplinary action, so maybe logic has left the building forever and Major Major is counted as out when he’s in.
When the person asked if this letter would be sent to someone coming back to work after a long term illness like cancer, they were told that, yes it totally would.
The letter stated that the person’s manager would have a formal meeting with them where action would be decided. This is what might save their bacon. According to the rules managers can decide not to take action in exceptional circumstances, at their discretion. Fortunately this person’s manager is not inclined to give them a warning, but how’s that for a bully’s charter? If you don’t have a great relationship with your manager they can give you a formal warning – which could lead to your dismissal – even if you have just come back from a serious illness.
The person sent me a copy of the new sickness absence guidebook. It’s very DWP work capability assessment esque. And we know how well that’s going don’t we? Ah, more sarcasm. Here are some snippets:
Attendance discussions will focus on what the employee can do rather than what they cannot, enabling them wherever possible to remain at work instead of taking sickness absence
The Department is committed to promoting a culture of attendance
The Department is committed to reducing the number of working days lost through sickness absence and the impact this has on the business
Generally, being in work is good for physical and mental health and well-being. In many cases an on-going attachment to, and focus on, work can lead to a speedier recovery
We don’t need to be 100% fit to be at work
The manager should adopt a work-focussed approach during all discussions with the employee throughout their sickness absence
Adopt a work-focussed approach to reduce the likelihood of further sickness absences
A work focussed approach to managing sickness absence
Don’t know about you but I’d love to know what a work focussed approach to gastroenteritis would look like.
I understand that people can’t just be off sick all the time. I would never argue for that. As someone who works in a small team, irregular attendance can be disastrous. However the Government are, as usual, approaching the situation with the view that everyone is a chancer who needs to be cracked down on. There isn’t an epidemic of long term sick leave, there just isn’t. People taking the piss are rare and can be managed out because they will usually also be poor performers and insolent. Long term genuine illness is also rare, and has to be managed sensitively. So this shit falls uncomfortably between two stools and is of little use to anyone.
They are also clearly viewing all of their workers as mere resources, to be tapped, exhausted and then slapped on the wrist when they drop down through work related exhaustion. There is no people focus here. Business, business, business, work, work, work. Pesky people damaging business with their frail mortality.
The cherry on top of this foul tasting cake is how dead keen they are to claw back time lost to them through illness but not so keen to recognise all the extra work and unpaid overtime people are doing. An ugly double standard.
Bonuses are limited and people are being told during their reporting year that they cannot attain a top box marking at review time because of top down pressure to mark everyone as ‘adequate’ regardless. So you work all year, doing the job of three people, you get an adequate marking, no bonus and then a cheeky disciplinary if you collapse under the pressure.
Hard working families my arse.
The person has since had a meeting with HR about the sickness policy. They were told the following:
There is pressure from the top i.e. the Government, to apply this policy.
The policy is going to be rolled out throughout the public sector soon and will be the uniform policy everywhere before too long.
HR admitted they did not agree with much of the policy and it had caused them a great deal of problems with many complaints received, but “unfortunately it is here to stay”
The trigger points at this person’s department are 14 days (including weekends) in 12 months and 7 days (including weekends) in 6 months.
Apparently these are generous allowances and at many other places it takes less than this to trigger a warning letter and formal meeting.
There used to be teams to examine absence cases on a more individual basis – i.e. stop an automated letter going to someone who has just come back from hospital or time off for cancer – but this team has been cut. Obviously. Cut everything why don’t ya Dave?
The team who sends out the letters are basically just administrators and do not have the training or knowledge to respond to queries from the people who get the letters. Hence this person having their query and follow-up emails ignored for a fortnight. The net result is a nasty letter gets generated and then radio silence follows if you ask about it. Nice and stressful.
Counting weekends is justified because technically – by bent of being paid annually – we are paid at weekends. Yeah, sure, right, so why am I never called in?...
The justification for the letter and formal meeting was that it is all about supporting people back into work. That old DWP chestnut. However when the person asked if this was not the function of the return to work interview, HR got a bit muddled. They confirmed that the formal meeting did not replace a return to work interview, that it was supplementary and there still needed to be a return to work one. Thus undermining the line that the formal meeting is about supporting people back to work. The return to work interview does this. The formal meeting is where the manager decides whether or not to punish you for your sickness absence based on whether it is ‘causing a concern to the business’. I don’t see how that helps the employee. This Government need to make their bullshit less obvious they really do.
The nature of the sickness is irrelevant. Cancer, depression, anything at the trigger point could get you a warning letter and a formal meeting.
The person asked if someone with a doctor’s note for serious illness, or someone returning from in-patient hospital treatment could be given a formal warning. They were told yes, but the line manager should make the right call. The person asked what if the line manager makes the wrong call or worse, has a grievance against the staff member and can use the system to bully them? HR said if a warning was given in these circumstances a complaint could be raised. The person pointed out that people who were sick or in a vulnerable situation (i.e. stress/depression/working for a bully) might not feel able to raise a complaint or have the energy to fight one. The HR rep had nothing to say to this and just made a sympathetic face and said they understood where the person was coming from.
The person asked about infectious diseases. Should they come in with gastric flu, ebola, the plague? Infect everyone and make entire teams of people go sick in their wake? Or what about the time they had shingles? Should they have come in and risked the life of their pregnant line manager’s baby? HR said no, it absolutely wasn’t the intention for people to come in when ill. Hard to see what the actual intention is then, because if people are going to be disciplined for taking a week off with gastric flu the inevitable result will be people forcing themselves in whilst ill.
The person asked why the letter and absence guidance was worded so harshly. HR confirmed a less confrontational version of the letter was being drafted in conjunction with the Union in time for the New Year. Returning to the issue of the guidance, the person pointed out that it was written in a very leading way that implied that formal disciplinary action should be the normal response to any trigger letter. HR actually strongly agreed with this, but said it wouldn’t be changing.
So there we have it, a sickness policy that overrules doctor’s notes, punishes you regardless of circumstance, has low triggers compounded by the taking into account of weekends and ultimately relies solely on the whim of your line manager, who could be a bully or an incompetent.
Let’s just all just run away and join the circus.