In simple terms, absenteeism arises when an employee is absent regularly for no apparent good reason. This does not include paid leave or unpredictable personal issues. Many organisations, though not all, have some sort of absence management plan – or absence management policy – in place to manage excessive absence rates.

Despite this, absence rates are rising and impacting upon the profitability and growth of most UK businesses, with long term absence also on the increase. A major factor is mental health issues, which is becoming a bigger contributor to employee absences.

The rate of mental health related absences relating to stress, anxiety and depression had been trending upwards before the pandemic but the rate has now gone up significantly as a result of it.

The direct cost of absenteeism on your business

The average number of sick days for a UK employee is 4.3 days a year. This might not seem like cause for alarm, but with enough employees and enough time, it all adds up for your business. In the last year, absenteeism cost UK companies £18 billion.

Not only that but reports predict that the number of sick days and cost will increase to £21 billion in 2025, and £26 billion in 2030. Right now, studies suggest that each employee costs businesses approximately £500 a year in absentee costs in paid wages for time off.

The indirect cost is higher

The direct costs (of paid wages to absent staff) are only the “tip of the iceberg”, though. There is a much higher cost associated with the indirect impact that absenteeism has in other ways.

For example, absenteeism can lead to low morale, as other staff become stretched in covering the extra workload and, with that workload, comes extra overtime costs. Absenteeism may also result in missing deadlines and, in turn, a bad customer experience and, worse, customers leaving. You also need to add to all of this, the management time –- of dealing with absenteeism issues – and perhaps the customer consequences – and its cost.

Consequently, absenteeism has a bigger impact on the performance of your business than you might think.

So, how do you take action by implementing effective absence management to prevent it from becoming a major drain on your resources and a killer to your business’ growth and success?

Start by creating a clear attendance policy – and communicating it

Your absence management policy should form part of your policies in your Company Handbook. It should state how employees are to

  • Report absences
  • How your company will follow up absences
  • What the consequences are for excessive absenteeism.

Your employees should know exactly what is expected of them in terms of attendance and the consequence of non-attendance. So, you need to make sure that you’re communicating it – to existing employees, if you haven’t already – and new ones, through their onboarding.

Don’t keep your absence management policy tucked away in your Handbook, stuck on a shelf or on a hard-drive somewhere. Ensure everyone reads and understands it.

Make sure your attendance policy is enforced

For your absence management policy to be taken seriously, you must enforce it – consistently.

Firstly, you and your managers must, like everyone else, understand it. This understanding is even more important for you and your managers.  Only by applying your absence management policy consistently and correctly will mean that you’re applying it compliantly.  Applying it incorrectly, on the other hand, could lead to a grievance and ultimately an unfair dismissal case or tribunal.

As important as understanding your absence management policy, you and your managers need to have the confidence to deliver it. Inevitably, speaking to staff about their absence will involve difficult conversations – and not having the confidence to hold them – and thus avoiding them – will only result in any absenteeism escalating. If not nipped in the bud, staff absence can become habitual and regular short term absences can become long term ones..

Understanding and provide support to your employees

Effective staff absence management isn’t only about following policies and sanctioning people. You should be understanding the reason behind their absences. They might have a problem that you can help them with – which in turn can reduce the risk of repeated absenteeism.

This is why a return to work (RTW) meeting is so important. This allows you to understand the root cause of the absence. This should ideally be conducted by their manager or someone who knows the employee well and who they are likely to open up to.

If the cause is to do with stress, bullying, poor managerial control, or any other work-related factor then you can act upon it.  Factors outside of work are more tricky – and it’s best to sign-post to appropriate professional support. If there is an underlying medical diagnosis, tread more carefully, this should be taken into account, and any triggers you apply in managing absence you might need to modify. If the medical condition is long term (usually 12 months or more) it could be regarded as a disability and the employee then has protection against disability discrimination.

Either way, knowing what the root cause is will help you determine the action you are going to take.

Improve Employee Wellbeing

Absenteeism is often linked to a stressful or unhealthy work environment. And this is increasingly the case with the impact of mental health issues that are resulting in a rise in the level of absenteeism – and are anticipated to lead to rises over the next decade.

Ways to tackle this are to look at ways to reduce stress in the workplace. You can look at implementing a wellness programme, for sure, and that’s a good thing. Something like Mental Health Champions training of key employees can help to spot and stop potential mental health problems growing in the workplace. Mental Health champions are trained in how to have conversations around mental health and how to sign post the employee towards professional help. They can also take a proactive approach to champion good mental and physical health by leading various campaigns in the workplace e.g. stopping smoking, healthy eating, and exercise programmes.

A much more practical first step, in our experience, is regular one-to-ones with staff. Whilst one-to-ones often focus on performance, they should be used to also check in with the team to assess their wellbeing, because that wellbeing has a direct impact on performance, including absenteeism.

Employee engagement

One-to-ones are also a great example of employee engagement, making employees feel appreciated, making them less likely to miss work, but there are many other ways to engage with employees that have a similar impact.

Offering flexible working hours is an excellent idea to increase your employees’ well-being and their commitment. Consider introducing flexible schedules and remote working. Building strong teams also means that employees are always more engaged because they create a sense of belonging, increased motivation and loyalty –and will make them think twice before taking an unplanned day off and making things more difficult for their team.

And you’ll be surprised how far good internal communications go to improving employee engagement, alongside investing in employee training and development. This might include regular business updates on company performance, profits, recognise a team for their performance, new customers or a new strategic direction, but all help the employee understand their part to play in the overall organisation.

Reward good attendance

Why not make rewarding good attendance part of your absence management policy.

Rewarding good attendance will offer employees a further incentive to attend work. Excellent staff management begins by recognising the good work. As a result, you will improve the employee feeling a greater sense of motivation and ownership, which can only be a good thing as far as attendance is concerned.

Set absenteeism as one of your HR KPIs

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it”, it the age-old business mantra. And that’s certainly the case for absenteeism as it is for all key business drivers.

Use absence management tools to track employee work time and absences. There’s plenty of good software solutions out there to do this, including BreatheHR.

They give you early insights into problems and provide a solution to help you to control absences. You can set targets or trigger points for employees who have a higher level of absence and if they continue to have further absences you might then follow a more formal route in line with your absence management policy. With time, you will be able to check if you were successful in reducing employee absenteeism and make appropriate changes to your absence management policies and practices.

Looking For Help to reduce absenteeism. Let’s talk.

At Wright People HR, we can provide you with the tools, coaching and support to improve employee wellbeing, whilst ensuring that your absenteeism management policy is embedded and used fairly and effectively in your business. It is this, two-pronged approach that we use to help businesses, like yours, to reduce people absenteeism levels, improve productivity and drive business growth. If you would like to discuss this further, then  please get in touch.