5 Essentials to Consider when Managing Absence in the Workplace

There will be times when your staff are unwell and unable to come into work and do their job. That’s a fact. Hopefully these absences will be genuine and their impact and cost to your business minimal.

There are a number of best practices you could follow to ensure that absence is managed effectively in your organisation. Here we outline 5 essential ones we recommend to business owners and employers.

1. Have a clear process for reporting absence

If one of your team is unable to come to work, you need to know about it! It’s important that you have a clearly defined process that is explained to every employee as soon as they join the company. As a minimum, the process should be documented in the employee handbook – the acid test is whether employees follow it in practice!

Often employees who fail to use the official procedure claim that the importance of it had not been communicated to them. As we continue to use new technologies in our day-to-day lives, employees may view these communication methods as adequate ways to ‘call in sick’. We hear often of employees sending notice of their absence via text message, WhatsApp message and email.

Many businesses have chosen to review their absence reporting policy to accommodate modern communication channels rather than work against them. For example, this could include offering flexibility regarding method of communication if it falls within the accepted timeframe, or simply reiterating that reporting absence via telephone is the only formal channel to use. If you think your employee documentation needs a refresh we can help.

Considerations for wellbeing

When it comes to mental health and wellbeing, it’s important to understand that those experiencing absence due to their mental health may find a telephone call with management difficult. Consider how you can make adjustments to better support employees in this situation. Remember this can be after the absence, for example if the employee used a different channel to report their absence, then take their mental health/absence reason into consideration.

2. Do your employees know what they get paid if they are sick?

For some this may seem like a silly question, but the reality is some businesses offer ‘sick pay’ as a benefit, others don’t. Many organisations choose to allow an allocated number of sick days to be paid in full within a given time frame i.e. 5 days per 12 months rolling are full pay. After this, Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) applies.

Not all organisations offer this, therefore their staff will only receive SSP when they are absent. Understanding what an employer offers is important to avoid any shocks or issues on pay day.

Considerations for wellbeing

People with mental health conditions often have financial worries which negatively affects their wellbeing. A clear policy communicating the company pay structure means individuals are prepared for such eventuality that their pay may be less following absence from work.

3. Hold a return to work meeting

For some businesses this may seem a bit unnecessary but from a wellbeing perspective it’s important and could allow you to be proactive in identifying future areas of support required.

Following the absence, the line manager should meet with the member of their team to review the reasons for the absence and discuss any areas where they may need support from the company.

Considerations for wellbeing

Meetings with management can be daunting and the individual may feel that the meeting is simply to validate that their absence was genuine as opposed to understanding if there’s further ways the company can help. Managers need to consider how they can make the employees feel comfortable about the purpose of the meeting and encourage them to have an open and honest conversation. Where appropriate consider making the meeting less formal – offer cups of tea, allow the employee to view notes made during the meeting before they sign.

4. Record and monitor absences

If an accurate record of absence isn’t maintained it will be difficult to identify any trends which point to a problem you need to address. As absence is a cost to the business, it will be difficult to improve on (reduce) without knowing the current state of play.

Reporting can be as simple or as sophisticated as you like. With businesses increasingly using cloud software to reduce paper trails and increase access from outside the office, tools like breatheHR can help you to record absences as well as generate insightful reports.

Considerations for wellbeing

Businesses that are aware of absence trends in their workplace put themselves in a better position to be able to identify areas of wellbeing that can be improved and potentially spot those individuals that may need support. Monitoring absence isn’t necessarily an additional cost. In fact, the time saved by efficiently recording absences can be invested in wellbeing – research, change implementation, activity planning etc.

5. Are rewards something your business should consider?

Some organisations implement attendance-based rewards. This can have a positive impact on staff attendance rates, however there can be a negative impact as well.

Organisations need to be mindful that these types of reward can lead to ‘presenteeism’ – that is, staff continuing to work and not taking time off sick even when they are unwell. Companies need to consider if the benefit of rewarding attendance achieves the right behaviours rather than wrong ones.

Considerations for wellbeing

‘Presenteeism’ is common with individuals with poor wellbeing, and this type of reward may negatively impact them further. Equally, if those individuals with mental health conditions are absent they may feel singled out if they do not receive rewards.

If you’d like to discuss any of these points further get in touch with the team at HJS Human Resources - contact us here or call 01722 325833.

Don't forget we have our FREE seminar coming up in October titled "Managing Wellbeing and Mental Health at Work" - click here for more information.

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