This week, Small Business editor Caitlin Sykes talks to business owners about absenteeism and presenteeism.

Kirsten Taylor is chief formulator at SleepDrops International, a natural health company she founded in 2009. The Auckland-based firm now has a team of seven.

What effects do you experience in your business when staff are absent due to illness?

As a small team everyone has a crucial role in the company. If a person is off sick, the work that they're doing can't progress. In some cases other team members try and pick up aspects of the job they know how to do, but that just adds to their workload. Winter is a particular time of anxiety for myself as a company owner because I know that if someone is sick it really will affect the whole company.

What things do you do as an employer to reduce absenteeism and presenteeism?


We have a strict 'don't come to work sick' policy. People recover faster from illness if they're resting and at home, and there's no point in them coming to work and doing half a job and also risking the health of everyone else in the office. If we have a new person in the team and they get sick I find I have to encourage them out the door because they haven't necessarily come across this type of policy before, and I find people will really try to come to work because they don't want to let the company down.

I also stock up on probiotics, vitamin C and vitamin D at the beginning of winter, and I make these free for all staff to use. At the first sign of a virus they're encouraged to take the supplements and everyone also gets free SleepDrops products because a great night's sleep every night is the best thing for the immune system.

We also pay for things like osteopathy or a visit to a chiropractor or other services if our team need them.

How did you come up with these particular wellness tactics for your business?

They've evolved over time, but it was about two years ago that I really decided to make a wellness mandate for the company. We were growing at a really incredible rate, everybody was stretched to the limit, and we just stopped laughing. Around the same time I realised I wasn't feeling very well myself. One day I remember standing at the top of the stairs and being too scared to tie my shoelaces because I thought 'I'm going to fall down'. That's how wobbly I was on my feet.

That was a wakeup call for me. I thought 'you're in the wellness industry. You're working this hard because you're trying to make people happy and healthy, so it would be quite counterproductive to have a stroke and die right now!' So I took half a day off, and really thought about what I wanted to do. I decided to develop a wellness mandate for the company and redefine my definition of success: that it was about helping my customers sleep really well and be happier, but also about creating really good job satisfaction for my team so they get soul food when they come to work.

It also came at a time when the business began to do a bit better so we had the cashflow to do things like send someone up the road to the chiropractor to get sorted so they could be at work the next day rather than ignoring the problem then having them not able to get off the couch for three days. As a naturopath I saw how quickly the body responds if you get onto these things quickly.

What results have you seen from implementing these ideas?


For the entire three-month period of winter we only had seven days in total taken as sick days.

How do you communicate your expectations to staff about what they need to do to keep themselves well?

It's part of our whole ethos. We're a health company so discussions about health are pretty common and we're a pretty vocal bunch that encourages each other. We have one member who likes to race cars in the weekends, and when the forecast is for rain all weekend I'll literally say to him 'make sure you keep warm and dry, we need you here on Monday well and happy'.

What advice do you have for other small business owners about reducing absenteeism and presenteeism?

Let people go home if they're unwell. They recover faster and won't spread it around the office. Let them work from the sofa at home on a laptop if you have to.

Also, value your staff and they'll do an exceptional job all the time. And invest in making sure they're coping with stress and getting a good night's sleep.