The latest Office for National Statistics data estimates that 137.3 million working days were lost due to sickness or injury in the UK during 2016. Yes that 137,300,000 … in one year! Although a massive figure, the number of days lost each year per worker is declining and was 4.3 days in 2016 compared to 7.2 days in 1993.
Minor illnesses were the most common reason for absence equating to 24.8% of total days lost, followed by musculoskeletal problems (eg back pain, neck and limb problems) equating to 22.4% of total days lost. Interestingly, mental health problems (eg stress, anxiety and depression) equated to 11.5% of total days lost.
Many managers are apprehensive about the prospect of tackling an employee’s absenteeism, or uncertain as to what action they can reasonably and lawfully take. While these doubts and fears are understandable, doing nothing can lead to further problems, including a possible general increase in absenteeism.
I would always recommend keeping an open mind about an employee’s absences rather than jumping to the conclusion that the employee is taking time off work without good reason. It may be that the cause of the employee’s absences is something outside their control.
There are a number of ‘workplace’ factors which may impact on an employee rendering regular service, for instance:
the volume of work or pressure of deadlines being too much for a particular employee to cope with;
unhappy working relationships or outright conflict with colleagues;
bullying or harassment;
perceived ineffective management or an authoritarian management style;
an employee’s inability to cope with change or fear of inadequacy; or
other factors causing dissatisfaction, for example ineffective procedures or equipment, or having no clear goals or targets.
Understanding the root cause of the absenteeism is important. Until the cause is correctly identified, it will not be possible to identify an appropriate course of action to remedy it.
10 steps to better sickness absence management
There are several steps businesses can take to manage sickness absence more effectively:
Discuss the problem with the employee.
Introduce a process or system for monitoring short-term employee absence.
Have an effective sickness absence procedure and make sure it is consistently implemented. You may need to provide line managers with training.
Conduct return to work interviews after every absence (preferably on the day the employee returns to work). They may seem like a hassle but done correctly are highly effective.
Make sure employees submit self-certificates and fit notes on a timely basis for every absence.
Carry out absence reviews with persistent absentees but make sure details about when absence reviews will be triggered are clearly stated in your sickness absence procedure.
Look for patterns of absence eg frequent Monday absences, just before an important deadline, before/after a holiday and during sporting tournaments.
Be supportive if the absence relates to a personal or family problem. Sometimes making small adjustments eg late start or an early finish can make a huge difference and resolve the absence issue and these changes don’t need to be permanent.
Take formal action if necessary.
Keep records of documents, discussions, formal meeting etc.
Benefits of getting it right
As well as having an adverse impact on the business, short-term persistent absence can be a headache for line managers so it important to understand why it’s worth the effort and the benefits of managing it effectively. Active management intervention can often help to:
identify the cause or causes of an individual’s poor level of attendance, allowing the manager to deal with the matter effectively;
provide support to the employee, where appropriate, thus potentially increasing his or her motivation and loyalty;
deter casual absences;
establish whether or not an employee’s level of attendance is likely to improve within a reasonable time frame;
identify whether or not there are any problems inherent in the workplace that are contributing to employee absenteeism generally and, if there are, ensure that they are addressed;
improve morale and motivation; and
lead to a reduction in rates of absenteeism within the organisation and an associated reduction in costs and improvement in productivity.
This Blog is only an overview and could be several pages long so if there are any aspects you would like to discuss or if we can be of service please get in touch.
Fit for Work Scotland
Fit for Work England and Wales
If you are concerned or have any questions about long or short-term sickness absence management or any other HR related matter please contact me, Natalie Perks, at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01463 262428