Absence management is the process of managing absences in your workplace. It’s important to have a plan for dealing with employees absent from work because it can be disruptive and costly when too many people are out at once. When you’re putting together an absence management plan, you should think about how often people are taking off, what percentage of your staff will need coverage when someone is gone, and whether or not there are any consequences for being absent.
The most important thing you can do as an employer is listen to your team members about what they need to feel more comfortable going into work each day. We’ll take a look at the best strategies for staff absence management and explore its importance on productivity and employee engagement.
What is absence management?
Absence management is about reducing employee absenteeism (usually due to illness or injury) through policies and procedures. In order to have an effective impact, these policies and procedures will need to be communicated to both employees and managers, with management/HR taking a proactive role in applying them. Some organisations prefer to use the term attendance management as it is considered more positive and this may even extend to rewarding employees for good attendance.
Why is absence management important?
The CIPD Absence Management Survey report found that:
- on average an employee is absent for 6.9 days per year;
- minor illnesses (e.g. colds/flu, stomach upsets, headaches and migraines) are the most common causes of short term absence;
- the median cost of absence per employee was £554.
Whilst there is a clear financial cost of absence, it can also result in workplace disruption and negativity from colleagues who might be left with covering extra work.
Absence management policies
Each organisation will determine its own standards for absence. Therefore, an absence policy should inform employees of these standards and let them know what is expected. An absence policy should provide a fair and consistent process to help managers deal with absence and let employees know how it will be measured. There should also be provisions to support employees and absence management methods, such as flexible working.
The policy would usually cover the procedure that should be followed when an employee is unable to work and in cases of leave management. This would include information as to who they should inform, how and when by, as well as what will happen when they return to work – such as a work plan following a long period of absence, or a return to work interview following any period of absence.
There should be a statement covering pay arrangements, whether the organisation provides the statutory minimum or enhanced sick pay for a set period. The policy should also explain what happens when absence becomes a problem and when disciplinary action might be invoked.
Absence management data
Recording absence levels with an HR absence management software allows for data to be measured and compared internally and externally. Internally the data can be used to measure the absence of each employee in-line with the absence policy. For example, the Bradford Factor might be used which is useful to highlight frequent, short term absences.
Employee absence management data can be used against external benchmarks to see how an organisation’s absence levels compare to others in the same sector or of a similar size.
The output of employee absence management data can be used to shape the provisions organisations put in place to help reduce absence.
Absence management software
It can be difficult to manage such an important part of the business, but an absence management software makes it easy.
Using an absence tracking system can make it easier to record absences, understand the causes of absences and analyse the data for underlying trends, such as a specific department having the highest level of absence.
The growing trend of employees working remotely has presented many challenges for employers. Not only does it increase the likelihood that an employee will miss work due to family emergencies or doctor appointments, but it also means the employer is unable to monitor their productivity at all times. This is another reason why a software tool is an excellent way to stay on top of absentees.
Feel free to check out our free beginner’s guide to HR software.
Managing absence & staff absence solutions
Managing all of the different kinds of absences can be difficult. By establishing an absence management system, it is possible to effectively manage your company’s schedule so that everyone gets the time off they need, while still maintaining company production levels.
Return to work interviews
Return to work interviews is considered the most effective way of reducing absence. They open up a dialogue between employees and managers early on and allow for provisions to be put in place before a situation becomes a bigger problem. For example, an employee might need to alter their working hours one day a week to allow them to temporarily care for relatives undergoing medical treatment.
Using triggers like the Bradford Factor or other mechanisms can prompt a review with the employee and management when the absence is becoming problematic. These methods might be effective in dealing with short-term absences, but in cases of longer-term absence, other approaches will be required.
Communication with the employee on long-term absence is key, whether by phone, letter or home visit, to understand the situation and plan a return to work, which will need to be adapted for each individual. However, some cases regarding an employee’s physical or mental health might require a referral to an occupational health provider. In addition, specialists assess the employee, recommend workplace adjustments and provide a report to management/HR.
Employee assistance programme
An Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) can also be useful in managing absence as schemes often provide counselling to employees which could help them to overcome ongoing issues.
Once an organisation has exhausted its options for managing an absence there is, of course, the disciplinary and ultimately dismissal route. It is important that the organisation’s procedures are fair, non-discriminatory and followed correctly to minimise the risk of unfair dismissal being claimed.
Updated: November 2021.