Bribery reduces absenteeism rates


Last summer, the Royal Mail was struggling with an average sickness absence rate of 12 days per worker per year, compared to a national average of seven days.

Absenteeism was so bad that 6.5 per cent of its total workforce of 170,000 were absent at any one time – that's some 10,000 people.

But since the introduction last August of a scheme under which workers who did not take time off sick could win a holiday or a car, attendance levels have risen by 11 per cent - meaning that 1,000 more workers turned up every day.

The scheme meant that workers who did not take a single day off sick up to the end of January 2005 were automatically entered into a prize draw to win Ford Focus cars or holiday vouchers worth £2,000.

Overall sickness absence levels from last August to January fell by one per cent to averaged 5.7 per cent, on the same period a year earlier.

During the period, 37 workers have won a new car, 70 have the holiday vouchers, and 90,000 have secured £150 worth of other vouchers.

The Royal Mail claimed that the cost of the scheme was offset by the savings made by reducing sick leave.

Quite what sort of message a scheme like this sends out is something the Royal Mail won't addess. But workers who are genuinely ill are unlikely to be happy about a scheme that offers inducements to others simply for turning up for work.

The Royal Mail's case represents the extreme end of the 'carrot' approach to managing absenteeism - although the incentives also went hand-in-hand with the introduction of a medical helpdesk and improved access for staff to health services.

On the 'stick' side, Tesco hit the headlines last year when it decided to stop sick pay for the first three days of an illness for workers in some of its stores.

The Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC), which scrutinises government spending, last year recommended that the prison service adopt a similar approach in a bid to reduce average absenteeism rates of 13.3 days per worker per year.

But according to Royal Mail group director for people, Tony McCarthy, "this package of practical support and 'thank-yous' has made a big difference"

"We must both support and reward postmen and women. They deserve it," said.

A second round of the same scheme has now started with similar incentives. Whether it is matched by a further fall in absenteeism, however, remains to be seen.