The Way We Work

We’ve all been there. It’s a gorgeous day outside, the sun is shining, birds are singing, and you have to go to work. You pick up the phone, practice your best hoarse, scratchy voice, and when the voice on the other line says hello, you launch into your spiel:

“Yes, cough, cough. How are you doing, sir? Me? Well, I have a terrible cold today, cough, cough. Odd, isn’t it? No, no, I didn’t feel bad yesterday, it must be one of those 24-hour bugs that’s going around. Probably best to stay home, so as not to get the other employees sick.”

Your way of looking at it: Hey, I’m just taking it easy for one day, right? No big deal.

Your employers’? Absence Abuse.

Business Week has a great article out right now by Michelle Conlin looking at the problem of absenteeism at work. According to the research cited in the article, only about 85% of labor costs pay for actual work. The rest is vacation and those “sick” days everyone takes every once in a while.

But too many “sick” days has become an issue for some companies and they’ve begun to take action. Some have begun monitoring carefully who’s been calling in sick and how often. In some workplaces, if you call in sick too many times, disciplinary actions begin.

There are many reasons people call in sick. Some are genuinely ill, others just need a day off. But some employees are simply dissatisfied with their jobs and are loathe to go to work. The article mentions the experience of one unit within a manufacturing company that was calling in sick significantly more often than other units within the same firm. The culprit ended up being the manager, whom many employees disliked (and thus took sick days to avoid). Once the problem was identified through focus groups and the company took steps to resolve it, absenteeism dropped. But the company would have been slower to identify and resolve the issue had it not been keeping track of sick days.

So as a company, how do you lower your absenteeism rate? One solution is to allow your workers to work from home. Research by staffing agency Randstad shows that productivity for home-based agents is up to 45% higher than for on-site employees — and that some of this increased productivity is accounted for by reduced employee absenteeism (for more, see World of Work, 2007).

Home-based workers are also more likely have higher job satisfaction, up to 25% higher as compared to in-office employees. As we saw from the experience of the manufacturing company with the large absenteeism rate in the one unit, unhappy workers are more likely to skip work.

The idea of suddenly allowing their employees to work from home with no oversight makes some managers a little wary. Understandably, of course. If your workers still manage to surf YouTube at work, what’s to keep them from doing that at home all the time on the company’s dime?

That’s where the beauty of the oDesk Work Diary comes in. When an employee is logging in time remotely, managers have access to screenshots of the employee’s monitor at 10 minute intervals. Keystrokes and mouse clicks record activity levels. It offers managers peace of mind: when Johnny says he’s “working from home,” he really is working from home, (and his Work Diary shows it), he’s not watching football.

Easy enough for everyone to understand: if you’re working, you’re getting paid. If you’re watching football (unless you happen to be a referee!), you’re not.