Effective absence management?

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Many managers find absence management one of the trickiest aspects of people management. This is in large part due to many managers understandably being wary of having conversations about something so personal as an employee’s health and illness.

Clearly people become unwell, we are not infallible and all of us suffer from sickness from time to time. It is when absences become a more frequent occurrence than occasional and maybe once or twice a year that this needs to be addressed. Or indeed if a pattern to absences emerges – always off sick on Mondays and/or Fridays for example. 

So why is effective absence management important?

Firstly, the costs to businesses associated with high absence levels are substantial and eye-watering! The CIPD run a survey each year in respect of the cost of absence. The last survey was undertaken in March 2020 (so a true reflection prior to the Covid-19 situation). It surveyed over 1,000 people professionals – representing 4.5 million employees – from across the UK and in every business sector. The average sickness days taken in the prior year by employees was found to be 5.8 days.

As an example, for an SME with 30 employees, on an average annual salary of £30,000; this represents a time lost cost of £20,076.92 in a year; notwithstanding any enhanced sick pay and SSP that you would need to pay on top of this. Then there is the added cost of temporary staff cover, occupational health referrals and medical reports.

But have you considered the hidden costs of absence?

Costs actually stretch much further than the monetary cost of absence. For example, the disruption for clients by not being able to speak with their regular contact, work disruption by a change in routine or other employees not knowing how to undertake a particular piece of work. Then there is the impact on other employees who may be forced to cover the absent employee’s workload at a detriment to them.  If a colleague is absent for a significant number of days, resentment can be created within a team which in turn can lead to pent up grievances.

Absence Management Policy and absence monitoring

Do you have a Policy in place and is it up to date? When was the last time you checked, updated and, more importantly, communicated your absence policy? Are you fully aware of how absence compares across different teams? Can you actually say that you understand absence trends in your business? Do you have the tools in place to allow you to take steps to reduce absence and improve staff wellbeing?

It is critical to have an effective absence management procedure in place. This makes it abundantly clear to both managers and employees of what is expected of them and sets out a clear process to follow. If an employee knows their absence is being recorded and monitored, they are less likely to take days off sick which may not necessarily be for genuine sickness. We can help you draft this or review any existing policy or procedure.

It is critical that absence levels are monitored; if you don’t have an HR information system in place, we can set one up for you. Breathe HRIS allows you to manage all staff absences in one place. With effective absence tracking you will easily spot problems or trends. Breathe helps you take control and manage sickness absence.

The process

Businesses will use different terms to define the absence management process and managing long-term absence follows a very different procedure to short-term. In short:

Other than the return to work discussions after each staff absence, an initial meeting is often the first formal meeting and is way of finding out if there are any underlying medical conditions or work-related causes for absence. It is an opportunity to find out what support can be provided by the business and also may include an Occupational Health Referral or the need to write to the employee’s GP.

A target for reducing absence will likely be set. If the target set is exceeded then a further meeting will be scheduled and the process repeated as many times as the attendance procedure allows. 

Don’t let absence get out of control. If you have staff with poor attendance levels then get in touch with us and we can help you get those employees back on track.

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