In normal times, it's all too easy to forget how complex it can be to manage employee absence — tracking and accounting for vacations, sickness, parental and compassionate leave. But these are not normal times. The advent of COVID-19 has added new forms of leave including enforced self-isolation, adding to sick leave at the same time as abruptly postponing long-planned vacation leave. Suddenly, no one's under any illusion about the extent of their absence management challenges.
As a vendor that specializes in automating absence management, E-Days has seen these challenges at first-hand. It saw an early spike in people working from home in COVID-19 affected areas — many companies wanted to start tracking that as a separate category within the E-Days system. Others wanted to build workflows for people reporting COVID-19 symptoms or add a new absence category for people who are self-isolating. Then came the surge in canceled vacation leave.
E-Days saw its customers setting up these new absence types and rules as they grappled with the impact of COVID-19, says its CEO Steve Arnold.
We weren't the first movers on this, our customers were coming to us.
Then we started looking more strategically, put together webinars for customers.
The vendor quickly created advice on how to set up the system to recognize potential COVID-19 cases based on the symptoms people were reporting. It can then automatically trigger alerts and messages to colleagues to arrange self-isolation, and record that as sick leave in the system. All this uses existing configuration options, so there's no upgrade or coding involved.
With business development on hold, the company diverted sales resources into helping existing customers adapt to these new challenges, says Arnold.
People are in absolute cash preservation mode, but we want to educate customers this is available. So the real focus for us right now is our own customers and how we can get them in the best possible position in our own way.
What's coming down the road?
Arnold sees other absence data becoming important as the pandemic progresses.
Who knows what you're going to need to know in three months time?
Absence intelligence is the phrase we're starting to use now — having an intelligent view of your absence data so that companies can get the most of it.
For example, many employers will soon find it useful to have a record of who has had the disease and therefore may have acquired immunity. These individuals won't need to self-isolate in the same way as others, says Arnold.
If you've already had it over a month ago and recovered, these guys are OK to come back to work.
With many people putting off visiting their doctor for other ailments, the company is encouraging customers to take up the option of offering virtual GP (online doctor) appointments through the E-Days system, he adds.
Just because Coronavirus is out there, it doesn't mean people aren't getting other things. How are those people getting serviced? ... I think the virtual GP market is going to benefit from this.
Later on, once lockdown starts to lift and travel restrictions are eased, companies could face new challenges handling a backlog of vacation leave, he warns.
We saw so many holidays being canceled. Therefore staff are going to be building up lots of leave entitlement for the second half of the year. Are companies going to allow people to carry leave over?
Using absence intelligence
Analyzing sickness patterns across a business was an important part of the E-Days proposition even before the advent of COVID-19. This 'absence intelligence' is even more crucial now, Arnold believes.
We're providing intelligence on absence in a business. Demand management, minimum staffing levels, how do we cut down long-term sickness? How do we make business decisions on top of all this? It's much more than a tracking system. So that at the right moment, when someone needs help most, they are signposted to what can help them, and their managers and HR know what they can do.
There's more potential that E-Days still hasn't explored in the data that it's gathering, he adds.
We've got so much useful data, we should be able to benchmark companies against each other. We haven't really commercialized that yet. But the data is very much telling us what's happening out there in the world.
With little exposure to the hardest-hit sectors such as retail, hospitality and manufacturing — which tend to use more vertically focused attendance and rostering systems — E-Days is looking to ride out the current slowdown in spending until better times return. As a subscription business that works on annual contracts paid in advance, it's well placed to focus on helping its customers weather the storm. Arnold says:
I want to come out of this strong. Strong businesses survive massive downturns and can come out of it even stronger.
Employee health and wellbeing is front-of-mind for many businesses as the current Coronavirus pandemic takes its toll both directly and indirectly. Yesterday I wrote about XenZone's work to provide online mental health support. E-Days deals with the more mundane business of recording and tracking absences, but as Arnold points out, the data behind these transactions can tell a broader story that businesses would do well to heed.
The example of tracking who may have immunity could be invaluable if there are further waves of infection once we're past the current peak. At that point, you could imagine that contact tracking might become a valuable tool within organizations to help manage such outbreaks, so long as privacy is properly respected.
While there are still many lessons to be learned as this pandemic plays out, one of the first has been the importance of having systems in place to look out for employee health and wellbeing.