There is no doubt about it – if we thought 2008 was rocky, hold on for 2009. Sit tight, batten down the hatches, weather the storm. Increasingly this is the mentality being demonstrated by a wide-range of business, regardless of size or sector. However, some of the more progressive, dare I say it, courageous firms are using the current situation as a means of gaining a competitive advantage over competitors for the future. In the long- term, we will be able to see those firms who have taken those bold decisions at this stage, investing in the future.

One particular area where firms are able to gain competitive advantage is through streamlining HR processes, particularly those related to planned and unplanned staff absences. Increasingly organisations are turning to sophisticated web-based systems – these systems help to cut the time, efforts and costs associated with tasks such as requesting annual leave, recording staff absences, and monitoring employee absenteeism.

Interestingly, many organisations do not realise that their current method for recording planned and unplanned staff absences is problematic, until it is too late.

Nick Russell, part of the business development team at e-days has encountered numerous instances of companies who thought that they had absence management procedures under control.

"There are three instances that immediately spring to mind, where we have been able to assist by implementing a web-based absence management system,” says Nick. “Firstly, a leading multi-national organisation had a rather disjointed process for holiday requests, combining in-house spreadsheets with a written request system – this led to a paper- chain requiring at least 3 signatures, and the assumption that somebody would update the spreadsheets,” Nick continues, “A web-based system such as e-days is able to reduce the paper-trail; emails are sent automatically – all that is needed is one click, and the centralised system is updated."

"On one occasion, I spoke to the new HR manager at a mid-size accountancy firm – this firm, like many others had developed their own database to record holidays and sickness amongst staff. The problem arose when the previous HR manager left to firm – we do not know the circumstances surrounding his departure, but after he left, nobody could find the spreadsheet with the staff absence data. This organisation has since turned to e-days; their data is held on secure, encrypted servers, and the e-days system is web-based – as long as their staff can get online, they can access the e-days system – there is no longer the danger of the data going missing."

"Lastly, there was one instance which I found quite funny (although for the MD involved, it wasn’t!). One Monday morning I received a phone call from a rather infuriated gentleman – he had got into the office, only to find that his 4 customer service agents had all booked the same week off, and nobody had thought to cross-check the holiday requests.” Nick continues, explaining how e-days would address this issue before it became a problem, “The visual representation of the calendar on e-days is an incredibly powerful part of the system. Staff and managers can take a quick 10 second glance at who has booked holidays, in order to see whether a request should be authorised or rejected."

There is a danger in the current climate, where companies will ignore the need to audit their current procedures. Often staff absence management processes are neglected, but ultimately it is an area where effective management and investment can lead to significant cost reductions in the short-to-mid term, as well as a distinct competitive advantage in the long-term. Smart firms are realising the advantages of intuitive web- based absence management systems such as e-days; smarter firms are implementing the system.