Friday, 18 June 2010

the Great Australian Sickie

one of my observations of the corporate (and government) world is that it is essentially a machine, rather like a computer. The software is the rules that govern it (often inflexible) and the hardware is the human resources which execute the program. If you doubt this view, let me quote from a recent job spec which I reviewed.
Agencies are asked to provide a maximum of one candidate, which has been personally interviewed. The efforts of agencies to comply with this request will be noted gratefully.
The following information should be provided as part of the quotation:

  • Application addressing the Key Selection Criteria (above)
  • Resume of the proposed resource
  • Hourly/daily rate for the proposed resource
  • Indication of earliest possible start date
note the use of the word resource there ... not contractor, not person ... resource.

With this in mind (from the night before) I read this article in the Australian which goes into descriptions of how the sickie is costing companies "$30 billion in lost productivity for the economy a year from casual and genuine sickies"

Heaven forbid we take genuine sick leave. The article wastes no time in suggesting:

“It seems to be getting worse,” says Paul Dundon, CEO of DHS, one of the growing number of companies set up to help employers manage absenteeism in the workforce.

Interesting, companies set up to manage absenteeism ... so now the machine is employing the equivalent of Lymphocytes to weed out this infection of productivity within the system.

Paul goes on to suggest that:

His latest research has found Australians now take off an average of 9.3 sick days each year, a 7.9 per cent rise from two years ago. That compares poorly with the UK’s average seven days and the US’s six.
So, we compare poorly with the USA or UK ... why them? I wonder about how we compare to other developed world nations ... perhaps in the EU?

Has anyone here ever heard of what a meat grinder it is to work in the USA or that Australian productivity was higher than the USA??

Perhaps there is a reason productivity is higher here ... we were already working happier, and perhaps working smarter?

Anecdotally there is plenty of evidence that this "pressure" to be productive is not working, as I'm sure we've all seen stuff in emails which shows the amount of discontent over this situation.

Which inevitably involve the boss hiring many middle tier management who seem to make everyone unhappy and bring little value to the organizations other than to report on the ant. The Ant inevitably leaves.

This is not a new theme in culture as even Australian movies such as Spotswood are based in the critique of this, and expresses the difficulties of marrying scientific management principles to an actual community of people.

Yet strangely this seems be not understood by management? The article above has a wonderful quote in it from a Peter Gleeson (executive general manager of recruitment):

The reasons for the rise in absenteeism, as well as companies becoming less vigilant about checking up on workers, include employees being burnt out by heavier workloads shouldered during the financial crisis. “Many don’t have the same loyalty to their organisation as they did when times were tough,”

Perhaps when he refers to tough times he means when it was a sellers market on the jobs market ... meaning it was tough for the companies to find staff.

When times were tough to staff in the most recent GFC I don't recall loyalty being mentioned when it was time to sack people. I personally have lived and worked through at least 2 boom and bust cycles where it has gone from being bloody hard to get a job to jobs are available. One thing I noticed in this experience is that when the market favors employees that companies are tying to get you to believe in them, believe in loyalty ... work towards building a better place. When the shoe is on the other foot however you find no such lamentations of loyalty when they're sacking or laying off. (unlike the company owner in Spotswood ... its a good flick, but clearly a fiction)

Perhaps its time that a little ethics entered the programming of the machine?

I seriously wonder who this article is aimed at ... its surely not the workers. Perhaps its aimed at small business ... however they are the ones who normally have the biggest problems in affording staff and have other issues. All the examples mentioned in the article are not small business, so it must be either "patting themselves on the back and convincing their other mates its all OK" or some lame attempt to appeal to the workers (who are getting screwed often enough with iterative productivity pushes, work smarter, how can we save money, do more with less and please take more overtime requests).

The last line from this apparent stream of pro business propaganda is this perl:
“If people are off work for long spells, it can then be hard to get back to work,” Mary Wyatt, chair of the AFOEM’s policy and advisory committee, says. “If they take 20 days off, the chances of going back to work are just 70 per cent. Seventy days off and they’re down to just 35 per cent. And the health consequences of being off work for long periods are up there with smoking and work in dangerous industries like oil and forestry.”

In case you're wondering, the AFOEM seems to represent the Australasian Faculty of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
I can only hope that Mary is a "full blown - away with the pixies - out of touch academic", because what she is saying is that if you are off work for as little as 2 months you have a 35% chance of getting a job again. Looking at the figures she presents you drop from 70% chance of going back to work after 20 days to 35% after 70 ... this trend suggests if you're away from work a year you'll never get a job (with chances of going back to work falling to zero %).

If this is true, then its nearly a national responsibility for companies to never sack a worker ... as they would never again be able to return to work.

Having spent 2 years unemployed and actively looking for a job in Finland I can say that if she thinks people want to remain unemployed then she's way out of touch with reality. Not being able to speak Finnish made getting a job very difficult for me in Finland, but that did not stop me trying. When I did get a job (a technically demanding position in a reasonably high profile organization) I was not only pleased, not only put in great efforts but performed so well as to exceed my employers expectations.

So either I'm a statistical outlier or the people above are full of 5hit!

With people like them forming the eyes and ears of the organisational machine it seems almost inevitable we have these boom and bust cycles which are only bad for the community and in the long run bad for business.

So the remaining question is ... how do we solve this problem?

1 comment:

Noons said...

Very simply: stop paying "researchers" for this load of c**p.

I'm reminded our company set up last year a "specialist" team for "vetting resumes and candidates" across the whole company: an HR initiative to "save on recruiting the right person for the right job". 10 people in this "specialist" team, at above average salaries...

Previously in IT we just picked someone we knew or called an external known head-hunter we knew could do the filtering for us, fast and cheap.

Result: we recently tried to hire someone for a middle management IT position. After 8 (eight!!!) months of non-stop "filtering" by this team and around 12 interviews with senior management that resulted in nothing, the penny finally dropped: HR relented and let us hire one from a known head-hunter.
First person, perfect fit.

How much did it cost us to wait for 8 months for this position to be filled? How much did it cost in time of our senior management to unsuccessfully interview 12 people? How much did we pay these "expert team" to find no one?

Of course, that was not costed. But we haven't heard the end of this yet, with HR carping on and on about us spending 10 grand in placement fee.