Steve Arnold: How effective leave management can help future-proof productivity

It’s well reported that the UK has a productivity problem, and latest stats from the ONS show that as a nation, productivity grew a lamentable…0 per cent in 2019’s third quarter. Undoubtedly, there are multiple reasons behind this malaise, but one area that seems to come up again and again is workplace systems.

Clunky systems, old systems, paper-based systems – all of which serve to create yet more inefficiency rather than improvement. In fact, the majority of HR managers whom we spoke with via a Censuswide survey last year identified ‘poor systems’ as having the single biggest negative impact on workforce productivity.

While improving efficiency and workforce productivity isn’t something that can be done in one fell swoop, fixing major issues can be linked very clearly to having the right systems and data to hand. Take leave management, for example. The stats speak for themselves; properly maintained and run leave and absence management systems reduce unplanned staff leave overall by 50 per cent according to the CIPD.

Having the digital systems to see trends, gather accurate workforce feedback, and be able to take into account different workforce requirements, will deliver significant long-term benefits to any business. If you’re looking to safeguard your workforce’s productivity for 2020 and beyond, here are four pieces of advice:

  • Say farewell to spreadsheets and paper. Archaic is out – your staff and your HR cannot wait for the answers they need. If you’re shaking your head reading this, saying “surely no-one actually uses paper spreadsheets any more”, I can tell you that they certainly do, and they’re about as inefficient as you’d expect. Even fairly simple requests to a non-digital HR department have the potential to cause organisational havoc, from holiday booking to changing personal details.

Productivity suffers when workers aren’t given the support and infrastructure they need to succeed in their role. Someone worrying about whether they’re ever going to get their summer holiday approved by the one member of staff (themselves on holiday) who has access to the spreadsheet, is clearly going to contribute less than they might otherwise do.

  • Flexible is the future. Many people are more productive outside of a traditional office environment, whether that’s working from home, a café, or a shared working space. Encouraging workers to take this approach, especially when you consider the additional wellbeing benefits, is a good way to give some everyday flexibility, letting workers know that you as an employee will make the effort. In return, your reward will be increased productivity and a happier team.


  • Keep things simple. You need to manage your people data simply but efficiently. HR and absence management needs to work together to understand what is slowing your HR processes down. Clunky systems have been the scourge of teams across the board since well before the digital revolution, and even today not all apps are created equal. Do your research to establish which absence management software is right for you – remembering that ease of use is the number one priority!


  • Beware presenteeism. Can you see potentially damaging patterns of absenteeism? I saw a worrying stat on the BBC recently around what percentage of people have ‘pulled a sickie’ in the last year. But it wasn’t worrying because I was shocked by the (relatively low) number of us who have taken the odd duvet day, but because the story didn’t focus on what is surely a far greater issue facing the UK workforce – people being in the office when they shouldn’t be. It’s another reason for our low productivity – a culture of fear around taking legitimate time off thinking that it will be seen as a sign of weakness or lack of commitment.


We’ve probably all had colleagues who sit at their desk with a nasty dose of flu, and the most productive thing they do all day is pass the illness round! But really, why doesn’t that person take the day to recover and come back feeling properly productive? Instead of giving the company a week of desk time with no results to show for it. It’s on HR teams to make sure the workforce knows that there isn’t a culture of presenteeism in their organisation, and that their health is important to their colleagues and managers.

Ultimately, better visibility of staff leave and absence trends will help you manage disruption, but moreover, staff morale. You can then act to increase efficiency and morale. Knowing the worst day for absence in the year, means you can proactively do something to employees. From a bit of our own research, the worst offender last year was 10th December. Lessons to be learnt from 2018? This year, perhaps firms could make sure that in mid-December they make a special effort to allow staff to work from home if they prefer, ensure that employees are getting extra support in the workplace, or even offer up a small perk for everyone who beats the blues and works that day.

These may seem like small steps, but taken together, they can arm even the smallest organisation with the tools they need to ensure a happy, healthy, and productive workforce.