Bad news: sometimes your staff are going to be off sick.
But fear not!
At the end of this guide, you'll know all you need to know about creating an absence management policy.
The way you handle absence and sickness can have a big impact on what your staff think about you.
Now, we've come to terms with absence being inevitable. But to make matters worse, absence from work has many forms:
- Short-term sickness, lasting less than one week.
- Multiple short-term sickness absences, which might follow a pattern.
- Long-term sickness absence that lasts for several weeks.
Let's not forget unauthorised absence, too, which you can read more about managing in our guide here.
These absences come with costs. A CIPD 2016 absence management survey reported that companies lost an average of 7.5 days per year, per employee, due to sickness.
Absence can lead to lost revenue. And sometimes, you'll even need to pay recruitment and wage fees for a temp.
It can mean another employee has to take on more work. It can mean delayed projects. Unhappy clients. The staff with more work to do to cover for their absent team members are at risk of stress and exhaustion.
Even your most durable staff, who never seem to miss a day, could feel the pressure if all they seem to do is cover for their colleagues.
This can breed a culture of resentment. Of low morale. Of low productivity.
And lost revenue.
But most absences are genuine, so how do you manage them without making your employees feel bad about themselves? Which, by the way, could lead to them looking elsewhere for employment.
To sum up, absence can be a catalyst for all sorts of problems if you're not ready for it.
So here's how you can get ready.
Absence management process
Create or revise your policy for absence or sickness management
You want your absence management policy to be available to all of your staff. So, one easy place to put it is in the staff handbook. Everyone should get a copy when they join the company.
If you update the policy, or any policy for that matter, always email staff the revised version of the handbook. Let them know what changes you've made, too. Transparency helps you set the tone for the open and honest sharing of information with your staff.
Your sickness management policy should answer the following questions for your staff when they're off sick:
- Who should they contact?
- Should they make contact via phone or email?
- Do they need a doctor's note or certificate to verify their absence? Note that in some situations, confidentiality might prevent this.
If you offer contractual sick pay, your policy should clarify how many days of someone is eligible for. If this number changes once an employee passes their probation, be sure to make this clear.
Aside from contractual sick pay, you must pay statutory sick pay when your employee is ill, and it's for up to 28 weeks. Statutory sick pay is currently £92.05 per week.
Make sure that senior staff and management know what to do when someone is absent:
- Who records the absence?
- Who reports absence statistics after a month, quarter, year?
- Who enforces your absence management policy?
- Who sets each employee's absence trigger points?
- Who will lead meetings when someone's absence is too high?
Set realistic trigger points for absence. You could decide them using the average absence across the board for a single year. Set out the number of days that will trigger the disciplinary process, starting with an informal chat.
And think about how you can reward staff who achieve 100% attendance. One easy way is to add a day's annual leave for every year they're not off sick, up to a limit of five days.
Promote a culture of wellbeing
Encourage openness in your office. Have an open door policy and make sure all of your staff know they can come to you if they need to speak to you about something. They might want to let you know about an upcoming appointment or an emergency at home.
If, for whatever reason, this is impractical—such as if you have multiple offices—make sure your staff know who they can speak to when they have concerns.
Expect your staff to work hard during their work hours only.
Bravado and last-person-standing cultures in your workplace aren't good. If your staff work 9-5, then don't try to convince them to stay until 5.30 by making them feel guilty. Once it's home time, your staff want to leave and deal with whatever other concerns they have in their lives. Recognising someone's willingness to stay after finishing time to try to convince others to do the same is more likely to breed resentment than a larger work ethic.
If an employee asks to work overtime, or is worried that their workload is overwhelming them, you should have an open and understanding conversation with them and try to agree on how you proceed.
When it comes to emails, make it clear that to your staff that you don't expect them to check their emails once every hour or even at the weekends. Do this and they'll feel like you're aware that they, just like you, have other life matters outside of the office. You'll gain respect as an employer.
Be ready to make adjustments
Sometimes, when someone returns to work after a lengthy absence, it's with a new condition or disability. To comply with the Equality Act 2010, you must make sure that you do a full risk assessment of the workplace for the returning employee, and give them any equipment or access that they'll need to do their job.
Return to work interviews
In your policy, let staff know that you'll conduct a return to work interview... each time they return to work.
You should treat these interviews as chances to offer empathy and support to your employees. Not as a chance to interrogate them. Again, the more care you show and the more you try to help your staff, the more they'll appreciate you.
Wellbeing benefits for your staff
As part of your absence management best practice, you should think about offering some "wellbeing benefits" to your staff.
A few ideas:
- Subsidised (doesn't need to be fully) gym memberships.
- Advice about healthy eating—you could even offer vouchers for eateries that serve healthy lunches.
- Health screening.
- Team events outside of work to build morale. What about a day out rock-climbing or running a 5K for your company's charity of choice?
- Secure bicycle parking—far healthier than driving, and if staff are struggling to fit the gym into their day, this could help them burn some pesky calories. It's also cheaper.
Employee assistance programmes (EAP)
Investing in an EAP will give your staff access to trained counsellors and other experts who can offer advice on matters that can reduce morale and work output, such as stress, depression, financial problems, colleague relationships, and more.