Absence management encourages you to look at the ways you can decrease the amount of unplanned absence that occurs in your business. We say decrease, because it’s unavoidable that sometimes employees will need to take time off for illness (either their own, or someone in their care), injury, or even bereavement. However, there is a series of things you can do to encourage good health and wellbeing; these play a crucial role in absence management, alongside the not-so-nice things, like disciplinaries for excessive or persistent absence.

The effect of unplanned absence

Unplanned absence can be a financial burden to your business (sick pay, loss of productivity, and disruption), but it can also have a huge impact on the rest of your team, too. When a member of your team is regularly off sick this can cause the rest of your team feelings of dissatisfaction, increased stress (for people picking up the slack), and frustration. However, high levels of unplanned absence can also be a sign of more going on within your business than appears on the surface. Employees could be off for a whole host of reasons aside from being unwell. It’s your job to as their employer to spot patterns or problems.

Check your absence management policy!

Here is a checklist of things to ensure you have updated and included within your absence management policy;

  • Is your policy worded correctly? Ensure that while employees know they’re entitled to time off when they’re unwell, they’re also aware that the policy shouldn’t be abused
  • Have you Included details of how sickness absence should be reported (should it be a call, a text, or will an email suffice?), when it should be reported, and who it should be reported to?
  • Have you made it clear that you will record and measure data on unplanned absence?
  • Have you explained within your policy any sick pay entitlement within the business, as well as what happens with frequent absence or an abuse of sick leave? This should include when you might feel it is appropriate to take disciplinary action.
  • Have you explained that you will conduct back-to-work interviews with everyone, and in cases of extended sick leave, you may re-onboard employees to help them settle back into their role?
  • Have you explained what may happen in cases of unauthorised absence? (defined as when someone doesn’t show up for work unexpectedly and doesn’t notify anyone.) There may be causes, such as a medical emergency, where it is not possible to let you know immediately, but if there is not a reasonable excuse, it may be appropriate to take disciplinary action.

NOTE: Before you can start a disciplinary procedure, you must conduct a full investigation into the absence, and you must always act reasonably to avoid potential unfair dismissal claims. Ensure that a copy of your sickness absence policy is accessible to everyone within the business, and, that if you make any amendments to your current policy, all employees are notified and sent a copy of the updated version.

Recording unplanned absence

We advise that you record any instances of unplanned absence in your business straight away. By doing this, it means you’ll be able to spot any patterns and therefore highlight any problems much earlier. For example, perhaps someone takes every third Friday off sick, when you record this data, it will become easy to identify areas of concern and give you a better opportunity to tackle and resolve potential problems.

One method that you may use to monitor absence is the Bradford Factor. This is a scale that helps you give weighting to any absence to help you spot areas of concern more easily. You record ‘instances of absence x days absent over 52 weeks’. Thus, someone who takes frequent short periods of absence will total a higher score than someone who takes more days over fewer instances. NOTE: while the Bradford Factor treats everyone the same, for employees with disabilities or long-standing issues, for example, it can be unfair. You need to assess each case individually and act reasonably when reading the results.

The cause of absence

While there will be a genuine reason behind most sick days taken, it’s important that you look at the cause behind each absence. Failing to do so could lead to bigger issues within the company that are more difficult to fix. Is absence due to illness or injury? Perhaps someone is taking time off to care for sick relatives? Maybe someone is being bullied by a colleague? Find out whether your employees need additional support from the business and your managers.

You should also be mindful and spot the ‘isms’ and deliberately broach the subject with employees where necessary:

  • ‘Absenteeism’ – is when someone habitually takes sick leave. We have another blog posted on ‘how to reduce absenteeism’ (https://www.wrightpeoplehr.com/blog/how-to-reduce-absenteeism-in-the-workplace/)

which might be useful to read if you have noticed this to be an issue within your business.

  • Then there’s ‘leavism’, which where people refuse to take their annual leave, or work instead of resting when they do. These employees feel ultra-committed to their job, however, it is extremely bad for their health and wellbeing, and will soon lead to burnout and other health issues if not carefully tackled by management.
  • Finally, there’s ‘presenteeism’, which is where an employee continues present at work, even if they are genuinely ill. Not only is this bad for their health and wellbeing, but it also puts others at risk of illness, which could cause more problems for your business.

Ill health dismissal

On occasion, it may be your last resort to dismiss an employee on the grounds of ill health. However, it’s vital that this is a last resort measure only, and you take reasonable steps to help get your employee back to work first. These steps may include you approaching their GP for a report on their health (with your employee’s permission), arranging an occupational health assessment, or making adjustments to enable them to do their job. This won’t always work and it may be your only option to dismiss your employee. If so, it’s important to act with sensitivity and fairness. We would strongly recommend taking expert advice and following ACAS rules and checking The Equality Act 2010.

Five ways you can reduce sickness absence in the workplace

Here are five ways you can minimise absence within your business

  1. Be more flexible – giving your team a little more flexibility can mean the difference between someone calling in sick with a sniffle, or them working from home instead. It could mean that someone work from 7am – 3pm, so that they can still collect their children from school. Offering more flexibility, whether that’s bringing in a hybrid working policy, or flexi-time, could dramatically decrease the number of sick days people use.
  2. Be clearer with your guidelines – Your team should know that, while you don’t expect them to come into work with the flu, taking a day off for a trivial issue is also unacceptable. Look at ways you can support your team, such as working from home with a bad back, or giving them time off for medical appointments, so they don’t use a whole day sick for a 20-minute appointment.
  3. Introduce a wellbeing initiative – Looking out for your peoples’ wellbeing can reduce stress and increase fitness. Here are some ideas; provide gym memberships, provide subscriptions to mental health apps, encourage people to have catch up meetings while taking a walk, swap the office doughnuts for a fruit bowl and save the cakes for special occasions only. You could even create a company challenge, to see which team can walk, the most miles each month.
  4. Introduce better communication – Schedule regular 121 meetings to open lines of honest, confidential communication between employees and managers. And make sure that, if anyone is showing signs of poor mental or physical health, you offer full support to help.
  5. Train your managers – Make sure managers are equipped with the tools they need to identify and tackle any issues in the most sensitive manner.

As always, a careful and measured approach is in your best interests when it comes to dealing with absence. If you’d like any further advice, we’d be glad to help. Just contact us to arrange a conversation.

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