Sickness absence management is a challenge for every business. There will always be employees who are genuinely unwell, either short or long term, and every responsible employer will be sympathetic to this and offer support where needed.
But there’s no escaping the fact that, are also instances where the legitimacy of the time off is not so clear cut.
Unmanaged sickness absence can be damaging and costly for an organisation in several ways. If certain employees think they can get away with it, a belief that’s often exacerbated by the lack of rigour around monitoring, they’ll be more likely to continue doing it.
It’s disruptive to your other employees too: if there’s a question mark over how legitimate the illness is, they could end up feeling pretty annoyed about having to do more work to cover the absence.
Employers need to be able to keep an eye on the situation to make sure an illness is genuine and to take steps if it becomes clear it isn’t.
Monitoring sickness absence, however, can be a time-consuming activity. In fact, it can turn into a logistical nightmare if your process is unnecessarily complicated.
Some businesses rely on spreadsheets to track absence which can become a real headache when trying to gather timely insights into the situation behind absences.
And it’s likely that at least one stakeholder who needs the information is looking at an out of date version!
Having your business spread over more than one site can introduce a whole new layer of complexity too with even more time needed to be spent on chasing up answers about why someone’s off.
So what can you do about it?
Here are a few ways you could make your approach to absence management more efficient and effective.
Sickness absence management - Revisit your policy
Do you have a sickness absence management policy? Many companies do and therefore think that’s sufficient. But is the policy achieving what it’s meant to?
Do the words sound good but in reality, it’s not having the desired effect? It’s worth taking some time to review it periodically, making sure it’s still fully up to date with legislation and getting feedback on any aspects of it that managers are struggling to apply effectively.
Then decide on a suitable course of action: options could include refresher training on the policy, coaching managers on specific aspects of it or introducing additional components like a return to work interviews to ensure a more effective follow-up.
If you don’t already have one in place, write (and clearly consult and communicate as appropriate) a policy that outlines all the essential elements of what will happen if employees are sick.
This ensures consistency and fairness of approach towards those who are genuinely ill, and also makes clear to anyone who might be playing the system what the consequences will be.
If you need guidance about what should be included, you’ll find more information available on the Acas website.
Look critically at the tools you are using to monitor and report an absence
Is it easy to obtain information about the absence or is an excessive amount of administration needed? What kind of visibility do you have of the data; can it be quickly and accurately obtained allowing you to manage a situation?
Having an effective reporting system in place is vital as it quickly gives you insights into the causes of absences and that gives you the means to respond appropriately.
Review what you are doing with the data
Start off by looking at the big picture trends. Are there any patterns that might need addressing? Is there an issue in a particular department for instance? Are there specific times of the week when absence increases (the most obvious one being Mondays…).
Getting insights into causes of sickness absences, and understanding underlying factors that might be contributing to them, can put you in a far better position to manage them effectively.
Delve into the detail
Once you’ve established the general trends, you need to examine the information lying behind them and make a decision about what further steps are necessary. Some organisations choose to calculate employees’ Bradford Factor scores which flag up repeat instances of individuals’ short-term sickness absences.
Some HR software systems can be configured to do this. If an employee’s score stands out, that acts as a signal to HR to talk to that person to find out more about why they’re off.
A supportive company environment can have a really positive impact on absence levels. If employees feel able to talk about issues and problems through with managers and other colleagues, it can help them cope better and feel less overwhelmed.
Keeping the channels of communication open makes a huge difference and having a flexible approach can help employees through difficult times related to their health and wellbeing.
This can all contribute to helping them feel more able to come into work. So when you’re thinking about sickness absence management, factor this into your approach too.
Our cloud-based Legislator HR software system’s absence management module is designed to help you track and improve absence levels – please do get in contact if you’d like more information.