Each employer will have different processes and policies in place to help manage the absence of staff. Whether you have a dedicated HR department or raise issues internally through management – it can be a sensitive thing to deal with.

High levels of absenteeism can cost your business a lot of money and result in poor efficiency and missed deadlines. On average, we’re looking at a £77.5 billion a year hit to the UK economy. This has increased by a whopping 6.2% since last year. But one thing we can’t start doing is placing blame. We all get the odd bug and even mental health days are becoming more widely accepted. 

We can’t expect everyone to work at full throttle 5 days a week, every week. It’s not sustainable and stressful roles can impact our immune system – making some people even more susceptible to illness. 

So the real question is, how should we be dealing with the absence of staff and what are the best practices for covering work? It is, unfortunately, an unavoidable part of running a business. This means that your leadership skills are going to have to come into play and boundaries set where the entire team is understanding of expectations. 

Not only should these be put in place for the staff off sick, but departments should be aware of their responsibilities when one of their colleagues’ schedules needs covering or projects picking up. This will ensure their workload doesn’t pile up for when they return and if you’re working to strict deadlines – they are not at an unfair advantage. 

So what’s the general consensus? We’ve outlined a few things below that you may be able to implement to create a more understanding and inclusive culture for your team.

1. Implement A Strong Attendance Policy

Taking time off outside of your annual allowance should be straightforward. It is the tracking and documenting of these absences that can get a little more complicated. You’ll need to answer all of the ‘what ifs’ to ensure as many eventualities as possible are covered. This could include things like:

  • An employee shows up two hours late – but still comes in.
  • A parent or carer needs time off to look after an unwell child.
  • They haven’t attended work at all but didn’t make anyone aware as to why.
  • They feel unwell in the morning but begin working remotely in the afternoon.

People need to know who to contact and when they should attempt to notify them. If something happens last minute that means they can’t come in – would this still be acceptable? Clear and fair policies should help validate any queries or concerns your team may have. 

Once you’ve written up the policy, it is time to ensure every person, including those just onboarding, get a chance to read it and are aware of any changes that have been made. Addressing the absence of staff should be done as soon as possible – someone could be unwell tomorrow! So don’t shove it away in the handbook – make sure it’s known. 

2. Return To Work

While we understand that return to work interviews may not always be possible in a small team lacking an HR department – they can be a really useful part of your absence management toolkit.

Some people think it’s an unnecessary process and only a small percentage of employers actually do it – so what are the benefits?

Firstly, having this immediate communication with an employee will let them know you’ve acknowledged their absence. Sometimes it can be daunting coming back even after a couple of days. Just thinking about the mountain of backlogged projects you’ve been left to handle is bad enough. But doing this without any support or understanding from management is ten times worse. 

Similarly, clear communication will allow you to update employees on any changes, issues or news that has occurred in their absence. You’ll create a much more inclusive culture and ensure no one feels overwhelmed or out of the loop. 

As well as this, taking the time to ensure the person is actually well enough to return is vital. It helps ensure they recover fully and can be relied on to produce results at the same standard, without it impacting their health or the business as a whole. 

Furthermore, the long term absence of staff may highlight a need for adjustments in the workplace. Conducting a personable return interview gives you the opportunity to ask about their well-being and implement reasonable changes that could help them get back into the swing of things. This may also be the perfect way to reduce any future absences!

Absence Of Staff

3. Handovers

If an employee has planned annual leave, is taking a sabbatical, is going on maternity/paternity leave or is aware of other long-term absences they need – it is really important to carry out a full handover. This may be done with a single team member or even a whole department. 

The benefit of a good handover is that it allows the business to run as usual even in the event of long-term absence. But for it to be valuable – the employee must create detailed instructions that outline everything they may need to pick up. Missing out on important areas can lead to incorrect results or having to contact the person for clarification. (Totally defeats the point.)

It could also be worth considering junior employees to step up and fill in for more senior members. Not only will this ensure the work is covered, but it will help upskill your team and set them up for success in the future. 

Discuss the expectations and responsibilities involved before assuming they are up for the job. It may take a little more management than other options, but long-term investment in your team is invaluable. 

4. Recognise Good Attendance

Oftentimes, the absence of staff is felt more strongly than the presence. 

Yes, employees taking time off can put a strain on the rest of the team. Yes, sometimes illness cannot be helped and it is necessary to take time and recover. But what about the people who always come in on time, ready to push forward and contribute daily to the running of your business?

It’s well known that employees who don’t feel recognised at work are twice as likely to resign within the next year. So while you’re managing the absence of staff, don’t forget to recognise and reward those people who offer continuity to the company. 

This strategy will offer you some of the highest impact results and assist you in retaining top talent. Not only that, but you’ll be showing everyone else how appreciated this work ethic is. As a result, it incentivises employees to be one of the people who are rewarded, rather than taking unnecessary time off and impacting their own team regularly. 

Why Is It Important To Manage The Absence Of Staff?

It is thought that on average, an employee will be absent from work for around 6-7 days per year. It doesn’t seem like a lot – but as it adds up, the average cost per employee is around £555. 

Not only does it disrupt the financial situation of your business, but it can cause a real negative impact on other colleagues and the workplace as a whole. 

With finances being a huge consequence and most business owners’ main concern, it is often hard to prove your genuine reason for implementing stricter strategies. This can leave ongoing and long-term issues unresolved for fear of losing staff.

If you begin taking the initiative to get to the root of problems, you may find that many issues stem from ‘sickies’ and invalid time away from work. Having the correct attendance policies in place to monitor the absence of staff can enable you to monitor employee trends. 

As a result, being personable and understanding will benefit a large proportion of your team who want to feel appreciated and listened to. Communicating in this way with each individual will create a balance and deter those anomalies from taking advantage of your strategies. 

For More Advice

It’s never a nice conversation to have. But when you’re trying to reduce absenteeism – confidentiality and proper support will go a long way. Without any strategy in place, you’ll find that people may begin taking advantage of the system.

Even without an HR department, you can begin to monitor and deal with these issues on a base level. Once you start addressing them, you’ll notice that employees take notice and feel more understood. As a result, you should notice a far more productive and complete team. 

However, if you’re still struggling with where to start or how to tackle the nitty-gritty conversations – get in touch today.

You can reach us at enquiries@azimuth.eu.com or call 01483 24 33 81. 

We will be more than happy to discuss how we can help you and with over 20 years of experience across a range of industries, we have the innovative, proven tools that can help you unlock the true potential of yourself – and your business. What are you waiting for?

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