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Impact case study - Metropolitan Police absenteeism

London’s 999 emergency call centres provide a vital service. However, rising absenteeism by staff was seriously affecting the cover the Metropolitan Police were able to offer. They asked King’s College London to investigate the causes and possible solutions. 

From management style to relationships, our research examined a range of key areas. Not only did we identify the main causes, our intervention strategies reduced absenteeism, helping the police provide a better service for Londoners. 

24 hours a day.    365 days a year.    London’s service that never sleeps. 

Absenteeism costs British organisations £9 billion every year - with call centres topping the list of absentee staff.

The stress of 12-hour rotating shifts and having to deal with incidents such as burglary, domestic violence and murder, makes 999 call centres particularly vulnerable to the problem. 

The Metropolitan Police contacted King’s because of our expertise in interactive service work.

Exploring the causes of absenteeism 

The team, led by Professor Stephen Deery, set about finding the causes of absenteeism and exploring interventions that would help save money and provide an effective service. 

The team examined absenteeism of 1700 employees at three call centres in Lambeth, Bow and Hendon. 

As well as exploring motivational factors, the team applied their knowledge of industrial relations and occupational psychology to understand absence behaviour. 


Key interventions for boosting attendance 

From their findings, Professor Deery and his team identified the main causes of absenteeism, the impact of work place culture and a series of possible interventions. 

1. The causes of absenteeism

The research found a range of causes specific to call centres: 

  • Emotion exhaustion
  • Job routinisation
  • Abusive customers
  • Call monitoring  

These could be categorised into two types of absence: 

  • Involuntary or unavoidable - where stress at work causes stress-induced illness due to shift arrangements, work-to family conflict and perceptions of poor supervisory skills.
  • Voluntary or discretionary - when an employee makes the decision to take a “mental health day” to minimise the effects of work strain.

2. Impact of social relationship at work 

Examining relationships at the call centres revealed how supervisors shape a culture of attendance or a climate of absenteeism.

Our research indicated strict attendance rules leads to higher rather than lower absenteeism due to employee perceptions of managerial unfairness. 

3. Intervention strategies 

It was clear that employees must actively participate in developing and implementing strategies through focus groups or union consultation. 

One of our proposed interventions included a training programme for supervisors to improve their people-management skills. 

A safer and more effective service for the general public

The research by King’s helped the Metropolitan Police make significant changes to management style, work place practice and communication. The results of these changes included:

  • Savings of over £1 million for the Metropolitan Police
  • A new eight hour shift arrangement
  • An extensive training programme for supervisors
  • A 36% reduction in absenteeism over two years
  • Help for other organisations such as Barclays and Qantas

Overall, more consistent attendance levels mean the Metropolitan Police are able to deliver a safer and better performing service for over 7 million Londoners.      

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