Stephanie Kelly
4 minutes length
Posted: 22nd January 2021

6 essential steps for effective absence management

Monitoring staff absence within the workplace is often cited as the number one headache for HR professionals across the UK.

There can be a lot of confusion around the legal entitlement rights for different types of leave, and unintentionally discriminating against certain groups or individual circumstances is all too often a very real fear. In the wake of COVID-19, these fears are being realised now more than ever. That’s why it’s essential to stay on top of your organisation’s absence management.

The current state of work absence

Overall sickness days per employee per year have been in consistent freefall for over a decade, with the average standing at around 6 days of absence per employee.

Whether the continuation of this trend has its roots in the last recession, and any resulting job insecurities, or is simply indicative of improving absence management practices across the business world, countless studies have shown that employment is generally good for both physical and mental health.

Essentially, keeping people at work can help to maintain an employee’s health and well-being – while also improving organisational effectiveness. However, the question on the lips of many HR professionals is: how do we achieve this?

One of the best ways to effectively track and manage absence across your business is to implement a step-by-step plan to ensure all identifiable aspects are covered. Legal employment experts Marie Walsh, director at Consilia Legal, and Ceri Widdett, barrister at Exchange Chambers, have outlined six essential steps to ensure you remain compliant with current legislation and able to judge individual absence situations fairly:

1. Review

For effective absence management consider your current absence policy and how well received it is within your business. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Who is aware of it?
  • Is it regularly reviewed?
  • Is it up to date with current legislation?
  • Is it clear and comprehensive?

If you’re unsure of any of these answers, you may need to update your policies to ensure you remain compliant and are looking after the best interests of your employees.

2. Train

It’s vital that all managers within your organisation are given sufficient absence management training on a range of topics, including:

  • Communication styles and how best to communicate effectively
  • Placing an emphasis on their duty of care towards all direct reports
  • Ensuring different types of absence legislation are understood and can be applied accordingly

The most effective absence management training is not just a box-ticking exercise; it’s an opportunity to ensure that your best resource – your staff – are being properly cared for.

3. Record

Ensuring you properly record all incidents of absence will help you to pick out trends and identify any risks to your business. Keep in mind that there are some general absence patterns which may come up, including:

  • Younger workers tending to have more frequent, shorter periods of absence
  • Manual workers having higher overall absence levels than any other group
  • Office workers having the highest overall absence levels for stress-related illnesses
  • Unauthorised absences being more common amongst new employees

High levels of absence could indicate burn-out, disengagement or overwhelming stress. It could also be an indication of long-term COVID-19 symptoms. It’s important that you take action to help any struggling team members to recover. In these situations, communication is key.

4. Communicate

Communication is key to helping employees back to work, especially in instances of long-term sickness. Consider:

  • The type of communication or contact to use, e.g. over the phone, face-to-face, email etc.
  • Setting up prompts or triggers via your HR system to remind you to keep in regular contact
  • If speaking face-to-face, consider meeting at an employee’s home or on neutral ground

Never underestimate the value of open and honest communication, as it can facilitate a speedy return to work and make or break your employee engagement.

5. Plan

There’s a few different processes that may be appropriate depending on the type of absence. These can include:

  • Scheduling return-to-work interviews for all types of sickness absence
  • The use of an occupational health team for long-term absences
  • Making suitable adjustments to an employee’s working area when they return

If you have plans and processes in place as part of your HR strategy, it’ll be easier to implement them quickly when needed; planning is key to success.

6. Monitor

Once an employee has returned from a period of absence, it is important to provide them with ongoing support, including:

  • Remaining open-minded and enthusiastic upon the employee’s return to work
  • Carrying out ongoing assessments/catch-ups to ensure they are coping
  • Being open and honest about any adjustment you are making and reviewing them when appropriate

Most organisations can drastically reduce costs by tackling absence. By following these six essential steps, you will not only uncover the most common reasons for absence, but will also devise plans on how best to reduce it.

Once you’re committed to a more effective absence management process, the next step is clear. Adopting modern, intuitive, cloud-based HR technology will go a long way towards achieving your absenteeism goals.

Our customers rely on our HR and payroll software to improve staff absence, as it empowers busy teams to analyse wider trends whilst still managing and caring for individual employees. This helps staff retention and bottom line performance to not only remain constant, but to improve.

If you’re considering investing in flexible, configurable, cloud-based HR and payroll software, why not book a demo with us? We’re happy to talk about your requirements.

Now that you’ve learned the six essential steps to better absence management, you may be interested in these top tips to ensure effective absence management.