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Have a plan to cope when workers are sick

December 06, 2007|Joyce M. Rosenberg | The Associated Press

The winter can be a hard time for staffing at small businesses -- it's not just the holidays that thin employee ranks, it's also colds and the flu. Owners can cope by making it easier for staffers to work from home and by having a pool of workers who can fill in.

"You always have to have a contingency plan," said Jeff Evans, general manager of Lake Naomi Club, a country club community in Pocono Pines, Pa. "People are going to come to the facility regardless of the fact that a lot of people have been hit with the flu."

One thing he does "is a lot of cross-training," allowing employees to substitute for one another, Evans said.

He also has a pool of temporary workers to draw from, including employees' relatives and friends. During the holiday season Evans can also get workers from firms that have some downtime.

The key, though, is knowing in advance where to turn for help. Starting your search for substitutes when you get a phone call from a sneezing, hacking employee means you may well end up with an unfilled shift and work that goes undone.

Management consultant Joyce Gioia-Herman suggests a pool of substitutes that includes former employees, full-time mothers who want to work occasionally and retirees. Depending on your line of work, you may also want to sign on with a temporary staffing agency.

If that isn't an option, Gioia-Herman, president of Herman Group in Greensboro, N.C., suggests triage -- determine which projects and customers are the highest priority and which ones might be put aside with few or no negative consequences.

Another crucial element in being prepared for absences, particularly of employees who work in an office, is using technology to allow them to stay in touch and to do as much work as they feel comfortable doing.

Ann Gallery, president of High View Communications, a Toronto public relations firm, was coughing and sneezing as she described how she uses a hand-held computer when she's too sick to go into work.

"People don't know where I am and what state I'm in," she said, adding that high-tech devices "let me be sick."

Gallery gets her e-mail through her hand-held device and also has her office calls diverted to her cellphone. "It's my virtual office," she said.

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