April 10, 2019

How to Effectively Manage Sickness Absence

According to a recent survey, Health and Wellbeing at Work, completed by the CIPD and the Simplyhealth, the average level of employee absence this year is 5.9 days per employee per year, or 2.6% of working time lost.

This is the lowest figure recorded by this survey. Their findings indicate a fluctuating but gradual decline in absence rates over the past decade.

By far the most common reason given for being absent from work was short-term absence. Fewer organisations this year include non-genuine ill-health among their top causes of short-term absence. More importantly, mental ill-health is increasingly prevalent as a cause of both short and long-term absence. Together with stress, musculoskeletal injuries and acute medical conditions, it remains most commonly responsible for long-term absence.

With this in mind, we ask the question, what can you do to manage and ultimately reduce sickness absence?

Generally, the methods used to track, deter and review absences differs from one organisation to the next. We typically advise our clients to record all absences and complete return to work interviews in a timely manner. It’s also useful to use trigger systems to help review absence information.

Steps to Managing Sickness Absence More Effectively

The following steps can help you manage absence in the workplace more effectively:

1. Measure all periods of absence

This will enable you to analyse:

  • The amount of time being lost as a consequence of sickness
  • Where absence occurs most
  • How often individual employees are absent

2. Monitor each absence by:

  • Keeping records of individual periods of sickness absence
  • Having accurate records that show individual instances of absence together with the duration, the reason for absence and where in the organisation the absentee works
  • Carrying out a return to work interview with employees following each period of absence
  • Ensuring that records can easily be analysed by section or department, month and year
  • Assuring staff that any sensitive personal data will only be kept for as long as necessary and will only be accessed by named individuals
  • Making sure that absence measurement figures show the scale and nature of any absence problem and which category of absence is involved. For example: long term sickness / short term certificated or uncertified sickness / uauthorised absence and lateness.

3. Deal with long-term sickness by:

  • Discussing the problem with the employee concerned
  • Considering alternative work or working arrangements where this is possible
  • Deciding whether the job can be covered by other employees or temporary replacements. You also need to consider how long the job can be kept open for
  • Seeking medical opinions from the employee’s GP

It is important that employers consider the provisions set out in the Equality Act 2010 when dealing with long-term absences.

4. Consider Supportive Policies

The Health and Wellbeing at Work Survey found that the most common supportive policies for managing absence are:

The report also states:

“Giving line managers primary responsibility for managing absence is among the most effective methods for managing short-term absence, while using a case management approach is ranked the most effective method for managing long-term absence. Training line managers and providing them with tailored support are among the most effective methods for managing both long- and short-term absence”. 

5. Tackle Presenteeism

Another pattern identified in the survey was that more than four-fifths of respondents have observed ‘presenteeism’ in their organisation over the past twelve months. A quarter of these report it has increased over this period. Very few believe it has decreased.

It was highlighted that most organisations are not doing anything to discourage presenteeism. Just under a third of those who have observed presenteeism within their organisation are taking steps to discourage it, although this is an improvement on last year (when 25% took steps). Efforts to tackle presenteeism most commonly rely on line managers sending home people who are unwell and better guidance for employees. Just 30% of those taking steps are investigating its potential causes.

Next steps

Moorepay customers who would like advice on managing sickness absence should contact the advice line on 0845 073 0240.

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About the author

Stephen Johnson

Stephen has over 25 years experience in private sector HR and management roles, working as a Manager for over 10 years and eventually moving into the financial services industry. In his current role as an HR Policy Review Consultant he develops, reviews and maintains our clients’ employment documentation. With extensive knowledge of management initiatives and HR disciplines Stephen is commercially focused and supports clients in delivering their business objectives whilst minimising the risk of litigation.