Managing Absence in the Workplace - 5 Top Tips for Managers


Most employers will expect their staff to miss a certain number of days from work. Whether its sickness related, family or emergency related, or covid-19 related absence, we’ll all miss work at some point. But to ensure absenteeism doesn’t become a problem it’s important that managers and employers manage absence levels properly.

So why is absence management important?

Data from the Office for National Statistics indicates the UK averages 156 million days are lost to sickness absence per year. That’s about 5 days per employee which costs the UK economy around £550 per absence, mostly attributable to colds / flu, migraines stomach upsets. In 2020,14% of absence was Covid related. The CIPD, in its health & wellbeing report (2020), points to an increase in conditions like clinical depression and anxiety amongst the top reasons for long-term absence.  Forbes, in its article (2013) on the causes and costs of absenteeism in the workplace, points to lost productivity and a significant impact on finances and employee morale results .

Many organisations, however, struggle to manage employee absence consistently and effectively and even through absence management is regarded as a core day to day activity for managers and HR practitioners, it often not managed properly and consequently, as the CIPD suggests, the true cost of absence is unknown.

So how can managers and HR practitioners get better at managing absence? Here are our top tips how workplaces can get better at managing absence:

Tip 1 – introduce an absence management framework

Every workplace needs a framework; a reference for employees, managers and HR practitioners that’s clear, easily understood, accessible and communicated to all. Everyone should understand what they need to do to avoid mistakes and misunderstandings. A flexible approach should be encouraged, built on a culture of openness and transparency, that facilitates easier absence related conversations and focussed on employee morale, motivation and improved productivity.


Tip 2 – measure it and monitor it

It’s easier to control workplace absence if you’re able to measure and monitor it and consequently tackle underlying workplace problems. Issues such as workplace bullying, workload or work-life balance issues, poor working conditions, lack of training can be managed by implementing appropriate workplace interventions tailored to employees’ health and wellbeing. So, for example, redesigning work and teams, providing more training, introducing an employee assistance programme, promoting healthy lifestyles or flexible working may have a huge impact on absence and may also control turnover.


Tip 3 - train your managers

Having absence related conversations with employees can be both daunting and challenging. Managers often don’t have the necessary training nor the awareness of the importance of their role in managing absence. Managers need up-skilling so they have both the awareness and knowledge how to confidently manage their teams’ absence, within the absence management framework and hold supportive conversations on wellbeing issues with their teams.  The CIPD’s research shows that just60% of employers are training their line managers, missing valuable opportunities.


Tip 4 - encourage open communication with absent employees

Keeping in touch is crucial during absence as without it, business planning can be difficult. However, managers can find this difficult and hesitate as they don’t want to come across as harassing employees when they are sick. The absence management framework can provide guidance on what communication and contact is required during absence, and when, so it’s clear for employees and managers. It provides a balance, not only to understand when the employee is coming back to work but also for the manager to contact their absent employee and provide an update on events at work.


Tip 5 - supportive return to work measures

There are many effective interventions and return-to-work initiatives that can be used to manage absence, including:  return to work interviews that are a supportive check in for manager and employee after each instance of sickness absence, special leave or family leave to cover emergencies, introduce flexible working if possible, disciplinary measures to tackle unacceptable absence levels, and even incentives that rewards attendance and discourages unnecessary absence.

These tips help to implement a positive absence management strategy with a focus on supporting your employees’ health and wellbeing.

As ever your feedback and comments are welcome!  Do get in touch.

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