Revolutionising Absence Management: A Fireside Chat with Leah, People Experience Partner at ASOS

By Ben Mactaggart | Business Growth | 8 min read

Edays Co-Founder, Steve Arnold, recently connected with Leah Naman, the People Experience Partner at ASOS. Together they discussed the journey to better absence management that’s revolutionised the way ASOS works with smarter absence insights to drive productivity, engagement, and ultimately, support their growth as market leaders.

Steve Arnold:
Thanks so much for joining us today. Delighted to have you with us.  I remember the last time coming to see you back in summer 2018, which seems like ages ago now. Gosh, so much has happened since then. It became quite clear to me why ASOS was such a market leader because you seem to be as much a technology business as a retailer.

Leah Naman:
We’re an online fashion website. We ship to pretty much every country in the world, servicing customers in 20 different languages. Our workforce in our contact center, as you can imagine, is huge. We offer customer service across different channels, whether that be social, Twitter, Facebook, live chat, email, and phone as well. Currently, we have around 20 million active users. Globally we receive around 150,000 contacts per week into our contact center. Just going back to the impact of absence, we have to make real-time tactical decisions. I’ve actually been with ASOS for 18 years now. I predominantly have worked in our contact center, but I now work in the people experience team, which is also known as HR.

Steve Arnold:
Yes, I was going to touch more on your role because I know you joined when the business was literally 10 people.

Leah Naman:
I launched the absence management team about four or five years ago now. That was a team that was solely to manage absence end to end, so that was taking the call, booking in the return to work, giving the information to line managers, etc. But moving into the last year or so, I’ve gone into the HR world, and I’ve merged with another team. We now manage the people experience for all of our ASOSers. Currently, we have about three and a half thousand global employees that are mainly in our Leavesden office and our London office, but we have employees in America, Hong Kong, etc.

Steve Arnold:
I remember that initial meeting and we drew a map of the current absence processes and the challenges you were having. There were spreadsheets, there were forms, there was Workday. There were T&A systems. There are various things all coming together in the absence management process. I know you touched on them a little bit earlier, but what were the main challenges that you were facing and why you came to Edays in the first place?

Leah Naman:
I think the common theme is that we were using extremely manual processes. We had an internal system that was in-house built for managing absence. We were then using a lot of spreadsheets and doing a lot of manual calculations in terms of pay and rollover. We had a phone number where people called us, which we logged onto a system, but then we had to gather lots of information, everything from what team did they work on, who was their line manager, what shift did they work. Then going into the world of booking in return to work, was a really, really long process. We needed something that just captured all of that and basically did it for us so we didn’t have to have that manual burden.

Steve Arnold:
I remember you told me at that time that your team was having to work extra days and weekends, I think, where they wouldn’t normally be working weekends, in order to complete some of those tasks. What sort of impact was it having on the business?

Leah Naman:
The fact that it was so complicated. I think as we got busier, we were taking on more calls, more data and the speed of the insight that we were giving was slowing down, which had a huge impact. One of the other things as well is that as some of our processes changed, they become more complicated to manage. Also, we went paperless as well, so we had to radically change even things like our return to work process.

Steve Arnold:
Let’s go through the process that you went through to try and resolve some of those challenges a little bit. I know Edays was involved as a part of that process, but just understanding how you tackled it.

Leah Naman:
One of the things was just researching how do other companies manage absence when it comes to systems. I had an idea in my head about exactly what I wanted. Then looking out into the world of absence management, typically, it’s kind of a side process. You usually use systems that manage scheduling, holidays, etc, and absence was always a bit of a last thought. Then I found Edays, which ticked all those boxes. It was speeding up the process for us. It was giving that data and insight as well and it was about real-time and making that people experience even better than what it was.

Steve Arnold:
Looking at what was out there and you already had some advanced people management systems in, it felt like you needed the specialist system to deal with the way that you wanted to deal with things there. What would you say were the end results?

Leah Naman:
Our employees can self serve and everything happens automatically. What we then can do is look at the insights and the data that’s coming through and we’ve improved massively on the processes, the information that we’re giving out, but also ensuring that the impact on people in terms of their pay, for example, is absolutely at the forefront as well.

Steve Arnold:
Whilst you were having to spend lots of time doing the nuts and bolts and the administration of all of this, you’re actually now being able to use that time better to do more value-add things.

Leah Naman:
100%. Absolutely. I think when I met you, I think it was a bit of a shock. Even when I look back, I can’t quite believe it myself, but to manage one absence for one person end to end… That was everything from taking the phone call, logging it, informing the line manager, processing their company sick pay, booking in their return to work. That end result was about 75 minutes per person. That now, on average, is about five minutes if not less.

Steve Arnold:
I guess from that you can draw the ROI by doing the calculations within the numbers, but it’s very clear with that dramatic time reduction. It’s great to hear. If you had to make some recommendations to other companies, following your experience with absence management, what would they be if you just had to pick up the top two or three?

Leah Naman:
It’s the admin burden. When I look back sometimes, it’s quite hard to believe that even four years ago some of the stuff we were doing. The manual approach would have to be wiped out. It’s from a data protection point of view, but also ensuring that we’re getting things right. Having defined and clear processes for the entire company really. Understanding what the process is and just making sure everyone’s adhering to it as well. We want to treat people fairly and consistently. That was one of our biggest key factors, ensuring that people are being treated the same, doesn’t matter who you are or where you are. Then just that insight, giving that data out to certain teams and managers across the business is absolutely key. I would say those three things without a doubt.

Steve Arnold:
I don’t think that number will be the same in a year’s time. I think that number will probably be half that amount because there will be companies thinking, “Actually, no, this is important. This could happen again. We want to be prepared. Actually, we need to look after our people better.” Hopefully, that’ll see a transition to the companies taking absence more seriously.

Leah Naman:
I think this is probably one of the biggest things is that Edays has enabled us to do is to really have that immediate insight when it comes to unforeseen things like COVID. We were able to amend the system as we see fit rather than having to go to a third party like yourselves and get you to do it for us. Things like recording self-isolation, shielding, symptoms, and everything we were able to do with immediate effect. That was one of the biggest things for us as well.

Steve Arnold:
Thanks so much for your time, Leah. I’m delighted to hear that Edays is having such a positive impact on you and your team at ASOS.

Read the full ASOS customer success story here >

 


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