Straight Talk About Absence Management: Corporate Buy-In – Introducing Absence Management to Your Company

DMEC Staff@Work

Absence ManagementBy Skip Simonds

Managing Principal, Simonds & Associates

Introducing or enhancing absence management programs is always a tough sell. People don’t like change. Accepting the implementation of a new or strengthened absence management program is one of the toughest challenges any corporate entity faces. It literally impacts every employee, every supervisor, and every department, and requires everyone to develop a new mindset, a new set of values, and a new range of behaviors.

Some of the typical reactions you’ll run into:

  • Senior management: “This is a priority. Handle it!”
  • Middle management: “This really isn’t a problem with my area.”
  • Line management (when you’re not around): “I don’t have time for this foolishness.”
  • Human Resources (HR): “Can we keep the change minimal?”
  • Legal: “This looks good on paper, but there is just too much legal risk.”
  • Payroll: “New absence codes? Bwahahahahaha.”
  • Employees: “Huh?”

Is there any way to get around all of this? Yes, but first let me destroy a key piece of conventional wisdom about consensus.

Accepted theory says that if you want organizational buy-in, you need to give all the relevant elements of the organization an equal voice in program development and implementation. You realize this is a recipe for disaster, right? IF you get a program at all, it will be so watered down as to be useless. In fact, worse than useless. Its ineffectiveness will bias the organization against future efforts.

Some voices are more equal than others. (Yes, I know. It’s unthinkable in a consensus-driven organization. Take a deep breath.)

First are the key team members. These decision makers actually know about absence management. These people need to know not just “absences” but “absence management,” and they will be impacted enough by the changes that you’ll need to make them decision makers. This includes: you, occupational health leaders, key HR people who manage any fully insured or selfinsured disability coverages, and one or two enlightened supervisors/managers who are your boots on the ground.

Don’t be tempted to add folks from areas such as legal or HR generalists or middle management. They are second tier subject matter experts (SMEs). This group also can include intelligence technologies, safety and health, and payroll. These people have a deep knowledge of a subject area that is a part of your overall process but not the whole process itself. They only need to attend the meetings when a topic you’re discussing or decision you’re making involves their expertise. They don’t have a vote, but their advice is important and must be considered.

Finally, there are the stakeholders, people who have a stake in the outcome of your program. They just need to be kept apprised of your program development and implementation. The program will affect them, but their expertise isn’t necessary to program evolution. Make sure you have the right people in the right level, and make sure they understand their role in your process. Key team members decide, SMEs provide advice, and stakeholders are kept apprised. Get this right, and you’ll get the best program design with optimal buy-in.