Heatwave and sick days

ended 11. July 2022

A journalist at the Daily Mail is seeking views from HR experts on whether people are calling in sick, or are more likely to call in sick, during the current heatwave (and hot weather more generally). Have you seen any evidence of this during the current heatwave or in previous ones? What can employers do? Should they be accommodating and even say people can work from home as it's so hot, etc? Or should employers adopt a zero tolerance policy to hot weather sickies? Any thoughts jot them down ASAP. Deadline is tight.


7 responses from the Newspage community

Star Quote
Laura Rennie
MD at Arena HR Ltd
Hot weather always increases the number of sick days being called in. So many employees are fed up with their work and lifestyle in general that an opportunity for a day off in the sun is just too much of a temptation. To combat this I've seen more and more employers giving their staff 'Sunny Days', which is one or two extra days annual leave that they can use for unexpected warm days. In Britain, we really don't know when this is going to happen so having a day or two that can be used at short notice keeps everyone happy. The number of sick days reduces and staff morale increases. It's a win win.
Heatwaves are bound to create more sick days if the company culture is not flexible. For those employers who offer work from home or flexible hours, they will see less sick days from their employees, because it comes with trust. If an employer says to their staff you can work when you want as long as the job gets done, employees have the option to work in the evenings when it is cooler or with their feet in a paddling pool in the garden. Employers should definitely be considering how hard heatwaves are for menopausal women and people who have auto-immune or hormone-related conditions who struggle to manage their body temperature. Sick days can be avoided when employers treat staff like humans instead of robots who make them money.
Managing employees in a heatwave, like much of HR, is all about common sense. HSE guidance cites indoor workplace temperatures must be ‘reasonable’. If several or more employees are struggling with the heat, despite attempts to cool down, the employer is legally obliged to undertake a risk assessment. The employer should listen to its employees who will have practical ideas to keep cool. Employers should also pay particular attention to employees with underlying medical conditions, such as heart or lung conditions and diabetes who may require additional measures to cool down.
The current heatwave highlights a fundamental issue surrounding the way we work in the UK, namely that our organisational models are simply too fixed. After giving evidence in Parliament and the Senedd in the past week on the much needed move to outcome-based working, if we adopted this model then issues such as heatwaves and the workplace will never be an issue again in the future. Working when, where and how you want, as long as you are achieving the outcomes set by the business, means that this level of micromanagement will no longer be needed. Happy sunny days for us all!
Since the switch to improved homeworking and employees managing their own time and priorities, it's not something we're seeing within our clients. As a business, if you're still seeing issues with people taking 'sickies' due to weather, I would suggest you probably have wider issues around trust, clarity and broader morale that need attention at leadership level.
In todays climate (in every sense of the word), employers should have by now adapted to the ways of the British worker! This is not a new phenomenon, so clever thought and analysis from employers should have been adapted and implemented, a model(HR) that suits and cuts back on these 'heat days'! Personally I feel as a business owner, that if the employee can carry out work duties away from the office/factory then this should be granted, allowing for smooth runnings (less sickies pulled). At the end of the day the performance of workforces determines how the business runs, we should respect that not everyone works well with heat. Current HR laws are too rigid, which in turn has an impact on the individual employees performance and the needs of the business (absenteeism). Dress codes should also be addressed, not every business has air conditioning......I say, hybrid working for all, which will definitely improve performance in business Introducing a zero tolerance policy is not the way forward!
As an employer, I prefer to treat people as human beings rather than just a cash-generation tool. The reward for that is greater loyalty and ultimately greater profits, because clients usually like to deal with a more human approach anyway. I pre-empt by making sure we contact our employees early enough to stop them travelling if they don't need or want to and agree with them what our expectations are. Then we speak to clients and let them know, too. And it's a great excuse to make contact with our clients. We've never had anyone complain so far, and to be fair, employees still manage to hit the deadlines. I think taking a hard line rarely works for the best when dealing with people.