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How can business leaders help solve office absenteeism?

by Ana Lopez
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Roei Friedberg is CEO of Aura Americathe air purification company that offers solutions that make air clean and safe.

The phrase “back to normal” is often used by business leaders to describe how they expect their employees and businesses to operate after the significant disruptions of the past three years. However, normal is still taking different forms compared to what was the acceptable business routine before the pandemic.

Even as companies prepare for their employees to return to the office, there are still unpredictable factors that pose an even greater challenge than predicted to the “big return.” In my conversations with thousands of executives about getting back to work, three factors are among the biggest hurdles in combating workplace absenteeism — and here are some ways executives can address concerns about these challenges.

1. Address childcare challenges and change expectations around working while sick.

One of the factors that prevents employees from coming to the office regularly with children is the need to take care of their children. A study from 2021 through McKinsey & Company shows that about one in five children is out of school for 15 days or more in a year. Now, hit by the perfect storm of RSV, Covid and the flu this season, workplace absenteeism for child care reasons is higher than ever. Abha Bhattarai notes dat: “More than 100,000 Americans missed work last month because of childcare issues, a always high that’s surprisingly even more than during the height of the pandemic, according to new data from the Labor Statistics Bureau.”

As partners and business leaders, we know that improving air quality and ventilation systems in schools keeps children and teachers in the classroom and parents in the office. (Full disclosure: My company offers air purification solutions just like others.)

Healthy school environments are a critical step in helping both children and parents “get back to normal”, but at the same time we must accept that we are living in a new reality. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, employees often came to the office when they had mild cold or flu symptoms, leading to more illness. A flexible work-from-home policy can help prevent these breakouts between offices and allow teams to care for themselves and their sick children.

2. Promote safer commuting.

As I addressed in my earlier article, returning to the office begins with a healthy commute. Walking, cycling and public transport can have positive effects on people’s physical and mental health. Not commuting by car is also an important step in reducing our carbon footprint.

We can encourage our officials to improve transportation options for Americans and make these spaces more accessible and healthier. For example, our company works with carriers to improve air quality and ventilation systems for mass transportation. What we’ve learned from these partnerships is that many metropolitan areas want to make improvements and increase passenger numbers – and many have the financial resources to invest in new systems and creative ideas to do so. For other companies that can help, I suggest building trust with local officials and offering solutions, and they will likely want to work with you.

As employers, we can play a direct role by encouraging our team members to also commute to the office. Offering commuter allowances and allowances for public transportation or cycling equipment are small investments we can make to help staff get to the office safely while protecting the environment. Depending on their industry, organizations may also offer flexible working hours, allowing their employees to commute during off-peak hours of the day.

3. Prioritize well-being.

Well-being at work has become a national problem. When people face challenges that negatively impact their well-being, research proves that it can affect not only their family life, but also their work life also; they may be less productive, make more mistakes and need more free time. Employees with poor mental health, strained relationships with co-workers, and inadequate support may consider “quitting quietly” or leaving their employer for good.

Employers feel the impact of their employees’ mental health and can play an important role in helping their workforce improve their well-being. As leaders, I think we need to make workplaces healthy and safe for our teams. We can extend health benefits to include mental health services, offer mental health days, encourage a healthy work-life balance and support good working relationships between both colleagues and managers. It is also financially worth it. According to Research of Mineral, companies that adapted to the changing needs of workers achieved the best performance during the pandemic.

Anxiety levels rise for many employees at the thought of changing the regular work routines they’ve adopted over the past three years of working from home. For some, the idea of ​​being in a crowded elevator or conference room or losing time commuting can cause extreme stress and the possibility of quitting the job. Embracing these challenges and demonstrating a commitment to supporting the health and safety of employees and their families inside and outside the office is critical to welcoming more people back into the office.

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