The Office for National Statistics estimated that 141.4 million working days were lost because of sickness or injury in the UK in 2018, the equivalent to 4.4 days per worker. For SME’s the impact is significant as they do not have the infrastructures that larger organisations have to cover the absence. Absence affects productivity, demotivates other employees and ultimately costs money. The impact can be far reaching.
All is not lost however, there are steps that you can take to manage absence.
Monitoring and reporting absence
One of the best places to start is to first understand how big a problem you already have. You cannot improve on it if you don’t know where you started! Set up an electronic monitoring system that will record all planned and unplanned absences. That way you can more easily analyse it. This will help you identify any trends and commonalities.
Analyse the absence statistics
Its all very well and good to gather the information on absence but time also needs to be taken to analyse the results. Are there any patterns that emerge? Rico has had 16 occurrences of sickness. John always takes the Tuesday off after a Bank Holiday. Rachel has lots of holiday entitlement outstanding. James has been off for the same reason repeatedly. Sigita attends frequent doctors’ appointments in the middle of the day.
So now you have identified some worrying patterns or occurrences of absence you now need to do something about it. Invite the individual to a meeting to discuss. Do not assume that everyone is dishonest. There are often underlying reasons for absence that need to be uncovered by being open and honest. Allow the individual the opportunity to open up. Some of these conversations may be a little tricky, so having a plan will help.
Absence reporting procedures
Ensure you have clear procedures in place of how to request planned absence and how to inform managers of unplanned absences. Unplanned absences would normally need to be reported to the Line Manager by a certain time. This should be done by the individual and by phone. Only in extreme circumstances would it be acceptable for someone else to report the absence.
Return to work interviews
As part of your procedures a return to work interview should be conducting for every unplanned absence. This means the individual sits down with their Line Manager to ensure they are fit to return to work and to discuss the reasons for their absence. If the absence is related to work – stress, physical ailments for example, what can the Company do to help? It is also pertinent here to look at the number and frequency of absences.
Consider looking at ways to prevent absenteeism. Creating a healthy workplace by encouraging all employees to take their rest breaks and holidays, offering healthier snacks, offering gym memberships, organising healthier social events that don’t revolve around alcohol and food, giving people the time to talk, etc. Don’t only consider physical health but also prioritise mental wellbeing.
Company culture and processes
The reasons for absence are often complex. One of the many reasons that people may take time off is because of the job or workplace itself. Is it a high stress environment? Is the job specification too ‘big’ for one person to do? Are there a lack of resources? Does everyone else take lots of time off? Is there a bullying or harassment issue?
It is worthwhile taking a long hard look at your organisation from an employee’s perspective and asking yourself, ‘why would someone want to work for us?’ If you struggle to answer this then this could be a factor in your absence management to consider as the bigger picture.
What will you do today to make an impact on your absence management?