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Managing Employee Absence

Employee absence can be a significant cost to our businesses. It can cause lost or delayed production, low morale and reduce the overall standard of service within the organisation. Managing attendance issues means tackling the possible causes of absence and addressing discipline problems such as lateness and poor time keeping. The Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development (CIPD) found in its latest Absence Management Survey that, on average, people are absent for 6.9 days per year, at an overall cost of £554 per employee. The results highlighted that absence was much more prevalent in the public sector rather than the private sector and that organisations were reporting an overall increase in stress-related absence and reported mental health issues.

Pulling A Sickie?

There are many reasons why people may take time off work, including short-term sickness, long-term sickness, authorised leave such as maternity, paternity or annual leave, family or carer responsibilities and unauthorised absence or persistent lateness. During the winter months in particular, we tend to be faced with short-term sickness absence as cold and ‘flu bugs spread rapidly around the workplace. Would it be too cynical to also suggest that at this time of year one or two of our workforce might pull the odd “sickie” for a bit of last minute Christmas shopping or a quick dash to the January Sales? Whatever the reasons, it is important to track, measure and monitor absence levels to suss out underlying causes, potentially highlight patterns of behaviour and identify repeat offenders of lateness or unauthorised absence.

Employee Well-being

More and more employers are seeing an increase in both short and long term stress related absence and reported mental health problems. As a huge topic in its own right, we won’t start to tackle the issue of employee well-being right now (we did address it in depth in the Autumn edition of Business Connected), but the CIPD survey did highlight the fact that attention needs to shift to understanding and addressing the contributory factors in the workplace that are leading to an increase in such absence.

Adverse Weather

Adverse weather can have a catastrophic effect on the economy as staff absence rates tend to rise dramatically: a particularly cold snap leads to road and rail disruption combined with school closures making it impossible for many employees to make it into work. One particularly long cold spell can cost the UK economy billions of pounds. Employees are often unclear about their statutory rights (such as whether they are entitled to parental leave or paid or unpaid leave if they are unable to make it to work) so it is important that you have a section in your company handbook that clearly sets out what you expect of your staff at such times. Depending on the nature of your business however, effective absence management and flexible working options could help maintain staff productivity during bad weather.

Managing Absence

Managing attendance problems often mean tackling possible causes of absence, such as working patterns, job design and employee relations. This can also include addressing discipline problems such as lateness and poor time keeping. If issues arise, they can often be dealt with informally by line managers in the first instance. Unauthorised absence is often the "odd day off" when employees give no reason for the absence. Whether paid or unpaid this type of absence can be costly to an organisation as it is unpredictable and can often lead to disciplinary action.

Monitoring Absence

It is important to monitor absence levels to find out how much they are costing you: absence costs the UK economy around £17 billion a year from falling behind in production, damage to company reputation, reducing morale and the costs of hiring temporary labour.  You need to have a clear policy in place which describes the procedures for employees notifying you when they are sick, the purpose and nature of “return to work interviews” and any triggers for possible disciplinary action. Your line managers and senior staff should also ideally have some sort of Absence Management training in order to help them to effectively deal with employee absenteeism.


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