8 tips for managing absence in the workplace

What is absence management and why it’s important?

Absence management is when employers have processes and policies in place to help deal with employee absences and to keep levels to a minimum.

It is important for employers to have good absence management processes in place as high absence levels cost businesses thousands of pounds every year, costs that most businesses cannot afford.

In 2020 research done by the CIPD showed that the average absence level in the UK was 5.8 days per employee. This was down slightly from 2019 where it was 5. 9.

Minor illnesses are usually the cause for employee absence, including colds, flu and stomach upsets, however other reasons for employee absence can include:

  • Bullying and Harassment
  • Stress and exhaustion
  • Mental Health issues
  • Bereavement
  • Long term illnesses

Employee absence is an unavoidable part of managing staff and operating a business. Of course, there are lots of very good reasons for an employee to be absent from work but sometimes it can go from being a minor inconvenience to a problem. Good management and consistent policies can really help to make a difference. Here at Clover HR we’ve put together some of our invaluable tips that will help your absence management skills so you could do it like a pro!

1. Have a pleasant workplace

Think about it. Is your workplace somewhere pleasant to be? Is it too cold? Or too hot? Is it comfortable and are they encouraged to take breaks from the screen? It’s an obvious thing but your staff will spend a LOT of their working life in your workplace. Is it somewhere they want to come to?

2. Incentivise attendance

This is a common technique in business and one which works really well. Your people ARE your business and you want them to be happy and incentivised when they are at work. Offering rewards to staff who do not take days off or a prize to someone who takes the fewest sick days often works very well. Just ensure the incentive scheme is fair to all and has safeguards in place for the wellbeing of your staff.

3. Consider increasing holiday entitlement

As mentioned previously staff spend a lot of their time in the workplace. If they are being allocated the minimum holiday entitlement they may well take the odd sick day here and there. This can be counter productive. Simply allocating more holidays (consider a sliding scale to work towards based on levels of service) can really help address this as days off then become planned which is much less disruptive to your business and the rest of your staff.

4. Consider “duvet days”

An increasingly popular staff incentive being offered as part of their overall package is a number of ‘duvet days’. A duvet day is when an employee has the option to phone in sick even if they’re not actually unwell. Many companies we have worked with report that a few duvet days a year when used sensibly, works really well especially when it comes to staff morale.

5. Make your absence policies CLEAR

What do your staff have to do in order to call in sick? Is a text acceptable? An email? Do they have to make a call? Is there a cut off point? Always ensure you have a very clear HR policy. In most cases asking employees to phone in sick and ensuring they do it by a certain time in the morning has a positive impact on reducing absences. If a member of staff has to have a chat with a member of HR about their absence (for not following policy) as part of the sickness absence management process, they may have second thoughts about taking that bogus sick day.

6. Use return-to-work interviews

Following from your policy above ensure you always conduct a return to work interview which really helps to keep a lid on faking sick days.

 7. Monitor absences to understand trends

Do you keep a record of employee absences? If you are wondering how to manage absence at work better, this is a really key thing for your HR department to do. Understanding the records could help you identify trends, habits or patterns which may require support or intervention from the HR team.

 8. Allow flexible working

Another, relatively new, policy that is working in many businesses we work with is flexible working. Life can be very busy and a 9-5 working day isn’t ALWAYS the most productive for every individual. Allowing the employee to manage their time and decide their own hours can have huge differences to absence. Take an employee who has run out of the holiday and suddenly has something on a weekday then needs to attend. Allowing that person to work, for example, four longer days Monday -Thursday but still fitting all their contracted hours is the difference between them taking a planned and an agreed day off or a day off sick which can affect your business and the rest of your team. Putting faith in your employees to manage their time and deliver their hours really can have a very positive effect on absence and is well worth looking into as standard.

Employee sickness absence will always happen but there are ways to manage this so they happen less frequently and are managed in the best way. The key is good staff absence management, clear policies and great relationships with your employees. If you need any advice about HR function, absence management training or support within your workplace why not get in touch. 

Absence management methods

Short-term absence management methods
Short term absence is an absence from work due to an illness or injury which usually lasts less than 4 weeks.
When dealing with short-term absence it is important employers do the following:
• Identify any work-related factors to the absence
• Talk to employees to find their reasons for absence and when they are likely to return to work
• Conduct return to work interviews upon the employees return to work
• Inform employees if their absence is above the standards required by the company, ensure you monitor absence levels and keep records
• Look for any patterns that occur, such as always absent on a Monday/Friday
• Formal disciplinary action if required

Long-term absence management methods
Long-term absence is when an employee has been absent from work for 4 weeks or more. Employees can be long term absent for a number of reasons, it is important for employers to have procedures and policies in place to assist and support employees who are on long term sick leave. Having a procedure in place, can help to deal with long term absences easier, as dealing with long term absences must be done with sensitivity and care, as usual, these absences can involve serious health conditions and illnesses.
When dealing with long-term absences it’s important employers follow procedures and conduct a thorough investigation into an employee’s absence and the reasons for the absence.
A formal capability process must be in place which would include the following:
1. Inviting the employee to a formal meeting to be able to discuss:
• Reasons for the absence and medical evidence
• Likely date employee may be able to return to work
• Further medical assessments and reports from GP/Specialists
• If the reason for the absence could be classed as a disability
• If the employee feels they will be able to return to their job without adjustments
• Any other options available to the employee, for example adjustments, redeployment, ill health retirement
2. If after the first meeting an employee is unlikely to be able to return to the workplace, then a second meeting must be arranged, especially if it looks likes dismissal due to capability is likely to be possible

Records of any meetings held must be and copy given to the employee. Employees also should be given the right to be accompanied during any meetings.


If you would like further guidance on HR policies, assistance writing policies or a review of any existing policies, please contact Clover HR on 0330 175 6601 or email us at info@cloverhr.co.uk

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