How to manage high levels of absence

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Employee short term absences can be a pain for employers, especially if one particular employee is a repeat offender and keeps calling in sick.

This can be costly and burdensome for small businesses (which are likely to be impacted more than larger organisations) it can also create conflict amongst your workforce and impact when people are actually sick and do need time off to recover.

The opposite to employee absenteeism has been coined “presenteeism”. This is where employees feel the need to be present at work for longer than required, at Harwood HR we believe that this can end up being just as unproductive as absence itself.

So how do employers strike the right balance when it comes to managing their workforce? Read our top tips on how to manage both an employee who keeps calling in sick and the employee who won’t go home!

Pre-empt with a policy

Having an absence policy means that you can be fair to your business and your employees. Following a set procedure, in all circumstances of employee absence sets expectations. It also creates a fair working culture for your team. Harwood HR can help you to write and implement an absence policy as well as a sickness management process.

As part of this process it is important to know how many days absence are taken across the company, so that excessive days off are easily spotted and dealt with, recording absences is therefore vital and your first action point – if you are not already doing so. Harwood HR recommend Breathe HR as a cost effective HR software which will help with absence recording and monitoring.

Oversee and observe

By communicating the absence policy at induction and following the policy at all opportunities you will create a company culture which observes, monitors and therefore reduces sickness absence.

On the other hand, an employee who is frequently working late could be one more late night away from exhaustion and calling in sick. They may benefit from a helping hand – perhaps organise some time for management training. At Harwood HR we can provide small businesses with HR consultancy services including training on absence management and managing presentism. 

Spot a trend before it catches on

It’s not unusual for employees to phone in to work sick to extend their weekend. And if they have done it once and succeeded, there is nothing to stop them from trying it again. By recording all employee absences you can easily identify patterns emerging and discuss with employees in the return to work meeting following every absence.

Talk it out

Start as you mean to go on. We suggest arranging a back-to-work interview with any employee who has been absent from work due to sickness. This will let your employees know that you are keeping track of absences.

And for those that had a legitimate reason for being off? It will allow you to demonstrate you care. Your employee also gets the chance to speak confidentially about their absence and discuss any necessary support.

Separately, regular 1-2-1 meetings with your employees are a good chance to discuss all aspects of their workload and find solutions if there is a problem.

Make it formal

If you have tried all of the above, and your employee is still taking too many “duvet days”, it is time to start formal meetings to improve their attendance. It’s really not fair on the business or other staff – particularly the poor employee who you’ve been helping to cut down their long hours, who’ll be the first one to end up with extra work covering the absence.

For further advice on how to manage frequent employee absences, or to have an impartial third party to help with interviews, contact Harwood HR for hands on practical support.

Harwood HR – HR Consultants providing HR Consultancy and HR Outsourced Services.  We provide clear, cost-effective HR advice. For a free consultation, please contact us on:

0117 439 0119 or

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