With many people taking time off during the holiday season — whether as paid time off or as sick leave — absence management is front-of-mind for HR staff. Core HR systems ought to automate all of these processes, but most fall surprisingly short, as the founders of E-Days discovered when they brought an online absence management tool to market at the turn of the decade. It soon became apparent that mainstream HR vendors were not building the absence management functionality that enterprises need, says CEO Steve Arnold:
They hadn't put enough effort into this area of HR technology — and it opened our eyes to the complexity out there in absence management.
There are many different rules across different geographies and industries, and many different ways a company might choose to observe those rules. As well as paid and unpaid time off, there are often complex rules around statutory sick leave and parental leave. Then the resulting pay implications have to be fed back into payroll systems. This demands a best-of-breed solution, says Arnold.
We discovered this was such a challenging area it lent itself to a very focused approach.
E-Days had started out as just one of a portfolio of speculative SaaS applications built by Arnold's web development business, but it quickly gained momentum. Although it had initially targeted smaller businesses, larger companies started asking about the product and the team began adding capabilities to meet their needs. Its global reach began to expand as customers requested new countries, says Arnold:
The key to our story was we started listening to customers. If someone wanted us to support absence management in Hong Kong for example, we'd ask what are the rules. We knew if we could tackle a location, the next company that came along with a presence there, we'd have a solution for them.
Today the company boasts more than 1,500 customers, ranging in size from 30-40 employees at the low end up to as many as 25,000 or more. The customer roster includes large enterprises such as AXA, Barclays, Canon, M&G, Monster Energy, Prudential, Sony Pictures, law firms Dentons and Sidley Austin, and public sector organizations such as the British Standards Institute and Health and Safety Executive.
Last month E-Days announced a strategic partnership to became the preferred absence management solution for Cornerstone OnDemand's HCM solution. It's a further demonstration of the value of a best-of-breed offering for absence management, says Arnold:
The difference with E-Days is we can configure E-Days to suit all these different companies throughout their locations. That flexibility just is not there with the HR systems.
'Absence management is like an iceberg'
This singular focus on absence management allows E-Days to go beyond process automation and rules administration to deal with other issues related to absence. Arnold explains:
Absence management is like an iceberg. You see the challenges of managing the admin of absence management, but the bigger problems are lurking beneath the surface — managing talent and proactively managing employee wellbeing, getting accurate data to payroll, protecting sensitive data — all those problems lurk beneath the surface.
One area of innovation is to become more proactive in how the app responds to absence incidents. For example, it now incorporates wellbeing advice and the ability to book a virtual consultation with a physician within a half hour of making the request, which can either help an employee get treatment when they're off sick, or even forestall an absence by providing treatment before the condition worsens.
When an employee enters information to notify a sick leave absence, the app displays help data based on the keywords being entered, and alerts the user to what they need to do next. It also provides reports to help managers and HR staff monitor wellbeing across the workforce. Arnold says that reporting function can be an early warning system of a build-up of stress or other factors in the workplace:
There's a pattern sometimes that happens to sickness — surely it's one of the key things in HR to pull that data and make it clear where you've got early warning signs of non-desirable things happening in the business.
Of course, many customers simply want to move on from paper-based processes, unmanageable spreadsheets or laborious data entry and scanning. But Arnold believes E-Days is also helping to reduce absence, with customers reporting 2.9 days of sickness per employee year on average, compared to the UK national average of 6.3 days.
While the E-Days performance may be skewed by the specific demographics of its customers, the company nevertheless claims that enterprise customers typically gain a 50% absence reduction compared to average and see a five-month payback period. With integration to Outlook and GCal as well as core HR and payroll, the app certainly aims to go the extra mile in making managing absence as painless as possible.
In the debate between best-of-breed and suite, the focus of specialized best-of-breed vendors on their particular niche is an important factor in their favor. The E-Days example demonstrates that if you're aiming to add value in a specific function, you think more carefully about what the data and workflows allow you to achieve, beyond the more narrow transactional goals. At first glance, it seems astonishing that absence management can't be integrated into a core HR system. But the more you discover about the real-world complexities of this apparently simple operation, the more the case for a best-of-breed solution becomes apparent.