absence management advice from HR experts

Ask the HR experts: Top tips for absence management

Whoever coined the phrase ‘Absence makes the heart grow fonder’ was probably not an employer.

According to the ONS, 131 million days were lost due to sickness absences in the UK in 2013, with research by PWC putting the cost to UK organisations at almost £29 billion a year.

This raises the obvious question: What are the most effective ways to deal with sickness absence and minimise its impact?

So we asked some of our HR consultant clients to give us their advice for dealing with absence management. Here are their top tips:

Make sure staff know your absence policy

Virtually every expert we asked said that having a clear absence management policy is one of the most important things you can do.

As Jacqui Mann, Managing Director of JM Associates Ltd says: “You need an absence policy in place that sets out what an employee must do if they are sick and not able to attend work, who they must contact, how they should make contact and by what time.

“I would also recommend including the reporting absence procedure in the employment contract and discussing it with all new employees on their first day as part of their induction.”

Use return to work interviews to establish the facts

Having a return to work interview after staff have been absent is another recurring tip that our experts suggested.

As Natasha Schofield, owner at Grassroots HR says: “It puts off skivers and makes genuine absentees feel loved and looked after.”

Rebecca Dixon, a consultant at Halo HR Ltd believes that return to work interviews can be useful in ascertaining the reasons behind absence, adding: “They can also help identify any recurring issues so that appropriate measures can be put in place to provide support for the employee and minimise further absence.”

To make these interviews really effective Ian Pilbeam, Director of HR Dept Edinburgh and the Lothians suggests putting yourself in the employee’s shoes. He says: “Imagine it was you. How would you want to be treated? Don’t make assumptions; establish the facts and go through a fair and reasoned process. Expect the unexpected – every case is different.”

Employees on long-term absence can face particular difficulties returning to work, especially if their confidence has been shaken or they feel they might be judged.

To deal with this situation effectively, Serena May, Director of The HR Dept Eastbourne says: “Employers should maintain contact with long-term absentees and manage a return to work carefully. Long-term absenteeism must be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. It is important to be supportive of staff and ensure they are aware of their options and the ways in which their employer can help.”

Make sure you use your data to manage absence

As Tracey Hudson, Director of The HR Dept South Warwickshire says: “The key thing is not to waste the absence information you collect. Use it, manage your staff absence. Deal with ‘suspicious’ patterns. Talk to your employees if you are noticing that there are frequent absences for similar reasons – maybe there is something underlying causing a problem?”

To help you use your data affectively, Toby Pochron, Employment Solicitor at Ironmonger Curtis LLP advises firms to “set out a formula for how the business will measure absence. Not only does measuring absence allow you to manage consistently absent employees more proactively, it creates a level playing field for all staff and ensures that a consistent and fair approach is adopted throughout.”

Use HR software that matches your needs

Another point that our HR experts highlighted was the need to use good HR software to manage sickness absence effectively.

“Have a system that is fit for purpose and easy to follow”, says Natasha Clayton, HR and Recruitment Manager of Exceptional Solutions Ltd. “This will save time and money in the long run.”

That is because good HR software will allow you to do a number of important things.

As Tracey Hudson says: “With software like myhrtoolkit you can upload your absence policy so that your staff can access it whenever they would like to refer to the information. That way, your employees should not be surprised if you need to start a formal absence management programme with them.

“Good HR software should also allow employees to log into the system and input their own sickness details – what is wrong, are they fit to work and confirm whether or not there is a workplace issue that is affecting their health. This is excellent information to log in case of conflict later.”

In addition, you should be able to set up absence reports and identify patterns of absence at a glance, be that across certain time periods, departments or locations.

Need further advice on absence management?

If you need further advice on managing staff absence, we can refer you to a HR consultant that can help you set up effective processes and procedures. If you would like a free demonstration of how HR software can help you manage absence, contact [email protected] or call the myhrtoolkit team on 0845 225 0414.