Does your business have an absence management problem?

Absence costs UK businesses £16 billion per year

David Quinn: BrightHR Social Media Manager

Looking to reduce costs for your business? Of course you are, every business owner would like to reduce outgoing costs and maximise their profits. And with some aspects of business it’s fairly easy. All you have to do is to keep a record of the outgoings, such as receipts, and you can see quickly where potential cost reductions can be made over time. But with other areas it’s a little harder to uncover.

Take employee sickness, or ‘ unplanned absence ’, for example. When an employee has a sick day, or is late on numerous occasions, there’s a direct and an indirect cost to your business. For example, it's likely you’ll still have to pay the employee, plus you may have to get cover in for them which can be costly.

There are other areas impacted too. How might absence affect team morale? Is the person off the main contact point for a key client? Do they hold important information on their computer and now you can't access it? The list goes on.

For many businesses absence is just seen as ‘one of those things’, as a pain, but one that can be dealt with on the odd occasion it does happen. But according to recent figures from the CIPD, the average employee takes at least six sick days a year. When you look at it that way, and multiply it by the number of people in your company, it doesn’t seem such a small problem anymore.

So how do you know if you have an absence management problem ? Here are seven signs that you might.


  1. You’re not keeping accurate sickness records

The first step to identifying an absence problem is to keep up-to-date records. By recording absence you can start to uncover whether they truly are one-off occurrences or if there are patterns emerging. And once these are uncovered you can start to put measures in place to tackle the issue.

As advised by the CIPD: “Accurate measurement and monitoring, identifying trends and then exploring underlying causes are key elements in effective absence management”.


  1. The same staff members always seem to be off

Does the same member of staff always seem to be off on a certain day or time of year, or are you noticing an increased absence from certain departments or individuals? This of course may be down to genuine illness, it could signal an issue within a particular team, or it could be because they’re ‘pulling a sickie’.

Either way, recurring absence needs to be tackled to prevent it getting out of control, and unless you have policies, systems, and processes in place then it’s all too easy for sick days to pass by unnoticed.


  1. You’re still using a spreadsheet to manage absence

Whilst spreadsheets have become an office staple, used for anything from accounts to managing staff holiday, they’re certainly not infallible. There’s the issues with version control and multiple versions being in existence, files being read-only when you need them most, missing or incorrect formulae in some of the cells - and of course spreadsheets being deleted altogether.

Any problems or mistakes like these, especially when it comes to managing absence, can have a profound effect; for example, giving someone too much or too little annual leave can cause issues when you come to reconcile leave at the end of the year, and you may miss trends when it comes to employees taking frequent days off. All of which will cost you time and money to rectify.

  1. You don’t have a sickness absence policy in place

One of the key factors to managing sickness absence is to have clear policies and processes in place. And it’s important to outline to your staff, and your managers, these procedures when it comes to sick or unplanned leave.

Managers need to understand what they are required to do, and when. How they can look out for absence trends among their staff and what action needs to be taken throughout the process, if required.

In terms of employees a clear absence policy should outline how to report sickness to managers, the notes they may need to present and how short-term-but-frequent absences will be dealt with. These policies should be readily accessible to employees and should be included as part of their contract of employment, employee handbook and/or on the company intranet.


  1. You don’t have a return-to-work process

The return-to-work process may sound a bit overkill, but it’s an important procedure as it can be used to uncover the true causes of employee absence. In most cases the cause may just be a one-off illness that you have no control over. However, in other cases you may uncover that the causes are not only controllable but preventable. Take stress due to workload, for example.

Such factors may only apply to a specific individual, or you may discover that it’s an issue affecting your entire workforce. By gaining an understanding of the causes you can make adjustments to reduce or even prevent any further absence.


  1. You don’t know the monetary cost of absence

Measuring the cost of absence in terms of productivity and morale is always going to be difficult due to the various factors involved. However, uncovering the cost of absence at a monetary level can be quite simple if you have the right systems in place.

By monitoring and reporting of how many sick days your staff take off, and having an up-to-date record of staff salaries, you can easily calculate how much sickness absence is costing the business. There are many cost-effective tools out there to help with this, including BrightHR .


  1. Keeping on top of absence is time-consuming

Updating spreadsheets, processing forms, recording absence, calculating the costs of unplanned leave. It all takes up valuable time, and it’s time that busy business owners could be using to plan and grow their company.

When something becomes a huge overhead of time - particularly when it’s not viewed as ‘business critical’ - it’s easy to let things slip. The result? Inaccurate records and an inaccurate picture of the impact on your business. And ultimately loss of profit and productivity.

Have you experienced any of the issues above? Download our 'Planning for unplanned absence' guide today to find out how BrightHR can help.