Here you'll find the tips you need on how to discuss absenteeism with an employee, from ascertaining why someone is frequently absent to addressing underlying causes.
The bigger picture: managing absenteeism and sickness absence
Dealing with unplanned absence can be a balancing act. On the one hand, you want to ensure that your organisation is productive and you always have enough cover. On the other hand, when an employee is absent – particularly if they are frequently absent – you also want to consider their needs. In some cases, an employee could be taking absences without good reason (absenteeism); in other cases, there may be underlying reasons as to why someone is taking more frequent sick leave.
How to address absenteeism with an employee
When it comes to addressing absenteeism in the workplace effectively, what you say can make a huge difference. From setting the right expectations to following up absence issues pragmatically and sensitively, good communication can make the difference between a positive company culture or misinformed and disgruntled employees.
Get your timing right
When someone has been absent, it's important to talk to them about it as soon as they're back. For employees who have a genuine reason for absence, this will be a great way to check in on how they're doing and support them in coming back to work. Then again, ideally they will have informed you of the reason from the start of their absence. For cases where someone doesn't have a good reason for the absence, the attention paid to their time off will hopefully deter further absenteeism.
Be informal before things need to get formal
View the initial talk with an absent employee as a fact-finding exercise, not a disciplinary process. Curiosity and empathy are key, avoiding judgement in the process. By working with the employee and highlighting their value to the business, you can address the issue collaboratively. This is why it's important to address the issue early on, instead of only reacting when things reach the point where a formal disciplinary process would kick in (as this could cause stress and even further absence).
Of course, in the case of a longer period of absence, a more formal Return to Work interview may be needed to ensure an employee is fit for work and getting the right support. As with shorter absences, a long period of absence isn't necessarily indicative of absenteeism; it's best to work with the employee to understand any underlying reasons for absence and how best to move forward.
Focus on problem-solving instead of punishment
In the majority of cases, there will be an underlying reason for frequent absences. Does the employee have an unmanageable workload or are they being micromanaged? Perhaps their job role unclear so they feel unmotivated? Is workplace bullying a potential issue? By understanding why someone may take more time off work, particularly for stress-related reasons, you can work with them to address the issue more effectively and reduce absenteeism.
Related post: How to reduce absenteeism at work
If absenteeism persists? Have your facts ready
In some cases, you may suspect an employee is abusing sick leave. A meeting about absenteeism (if there's not a good reason for frequent absences) won’t be fruitful if there are no records to refer to. Building up a record of absences gives you the information you need; plus, you can see the patterns that alert you to cases where absenteeism may be at play.
For instance, with absence data available, you can use the Bradford Factor formula to set absence thresholds. You can also use trigger points to decide when a situation requires an informal meeting or formal procedure.
Want to find a better way to record and analyse absence in your organisation? See our absence management software feature to find out more.
Written by Camille Brouard
Camille is a Senior Marketing Executive for myhrtoolkit who writes on topics including HR technology, workplace culture, leave management, diversity, and mental health at work.