The unpredictability of worker absence can make it a challenging HR task — and a costly one.

The average UK worker is absent almost seven days annually, costing employers an average £554 in sick pay. Yet although 87% of organisations collect absence data, less than two fifths monitor its cost. (Source: CIPD 2015 data)

"What's measured improves."
— Peter F. Drucker, founder of modern management

Through absence management, you can seek a balance between supporting employees’ wellbeing and taking firm, fair action against sick pay abuse. A wide range of established methods can help you measure absence, understand how it’s affecting your business, and manage it effectively.

Understanding absence at your organisation


Not all employee absence is the same. The reasons workers take time off fall into three broad groups.

  • Authorised absence includes annual, family and education leave. It’s usually managed through the employment contract.
  • Short-term and long-term sickness is often the primary concern of absence management policies. Minor illness is a major cause of absence, while around a quarter of businesses say non-genuine sick absence is a problem (CIPD 2015).
  • Unauthorised absence includes persistent lateness that costs working time. It’s usually managed as an employee conduct issue.

Measuring lost time


By measuring lost time you can understand the extent and cause of absence issues. Useful measurements include the lost time rate (the percentage of possible working time lost to absence), the frequency rate (the average number of absence periods per employee) and the Bradford Factor (a method of identifying persistent short-term absence for individuals).

Creating an absence policy


A clear absence policy helps employees understand their sickness absence rights and responsibilities. Rules on sick leave and pay form part of your employment terms and conditions, so you’re legally obliged to inform workers about them. 97% of UK organisations have an absence policy (CIPD 2015).

You can also use an absence policy to support your absence goals and culture. Policies often include:

  • Rules for notifying managers about absence, when self-certificate forms and fit notes are needed, and return-to-work interviews
  • How you’ll support employees to return to work through adjustments
  • What you expect during severe weather and other major events

Managing absence


When employees know what you expect attendance-wise, you can actively manage absence through established methods.

Short-term absence


Popular interventions include return-to-work interviews that can help identify problems early, disciplinary procedures for unacceptable absence and involving trained line managers. Further methods utilise absence data to trigger attendance reviews and pay restrictions.

Long-term absence


A few long-term absences can easily account for a large proportion of total absence. That’s why it’s useful to have a formal return-to-work strategy, which can rehabilitate workers to return faster. Your strategy might include regular reviews with sick employees, planning workplace adjustments and involving occupational health professionals.

Absence management and the law


Your approach should comply with relevant laws including the Equality Act 2010, the Access to Medical Records Act 1998 and Data Protection Act 1998. If an employee becomes disabled, you might need to make reasonable workplace adjustments so you don’t discriminate against them.

Learn more about leave and absence


Find more detailed leave and absence answers below. BrightBase is home to comprehensive HR compliance guides, opinion on the latest absence management issues and lots more essential reading.

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