5 Tips for Effective Absence Management
According to the ONS’ latest report on sickness absence in the UK labour market, an estimated 149.3 million working days were lost because of sickness or injury in 2021 – that’s equivalent to 4.6 days per worker.
All of this absence poses a huge cost for businesses, with SMEs hit particularly hard. In fact, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) Policy and Advocacy Chair Tina McKenzie has said that the average cost of sickness absence stands at more than £3,000 a year for small employers, equating to £5 billion across the small business sector as a whole.
While dealing with employee absence is an inevitable part of running any organisation, there are things businesses can do to manage absence and attendance more effectively and minimise the impact on their operations and their finances.
Here, we share our top five tips for effective absence management and look at how Absentia, our Day One Absence Service, can support you at every step.
1. Introduce a standardised absence reporting process
Effective absence management relies on having up-to-date and accurate absence data. Not having a standardised process in place and relying on line managers to collect this data can prove extremely time consuming and inefficient. It can also create opportunities for some employees to make false absence claims or more easily abuse your absence policy.
Introducing a centralised system that all employees must use to log their absence will help to reduce under-reporting and ensure that all the key information is captured in every case. This will make it easier for you to not only track individual absences, but also to monitor overall absence rates across your business and spot where interventions are needed.
How Absentia can help:
Absentia features a 24/7 absence line that your employees can call any time they need to report a new absence or update an existing one. We record both medical and non-medical absences and ensure that all key information, including the reason for the absence and expected return to work date, is accurately captured on our system.
Every absence or update logged generates an instant notification to your managers, to ensure they are aware of all the relevant details of the absence right away and plan cover where necessary. These notifications can also include guidance on any specific actions the manager needs to take, in line with your internal absence policies or processes, to ensure the absence is managed effectively from day one.
2. Equip your managers with the right tools
Research shows that primary responsibility for the management of both short and long-term absence within organisations tends to lie with line managers. However, reduced resources, ever-increasing workloads and lack of training mean that this task is often not prioritised. This can result in managers missing opportunities to intervene at an early stage, with the consequence that short-term absences frequently develop into longer-term spells that might otherwise have been avoided.
Providing them with the right tools can help to remove the administrative burden and make it easier for managers to keep on top of staff absence and manage it more effectively.
Using trigger points can be a particularly helpful approach, highlighting when an employee has reached a specified level of sickness absence and what actions or interventions are required at that point.
How Absentia can help:
As well as receiving real-time absence notifications, with Absentia your line managers will also be able to easily track all individual employee absences via our online Absence Management Portal. We use a clear traffic-light system so they can see at a glance any outstanding cases where an employee has failed to update or close down their absence or where a return-to-work interview is pending. We can also build in reminders and automatic alerts to prompt them to take appropriate action and ensure they are following the right absence procedures at every stage.
In addition, the portal provides your HR and Senior Management teams with access to comprehensive absence and return-to-work compliance reports for your entire organisation, meaning you can easily check whether processes are being followed correctly and identify where further training may be required.
3. Ensure your employees get the right clinical support early on
It’s important to remember that most sickness absence is genuine and that you have a duty of care to look after your employees, even when they are out of the business. Providing them with the right clinical support and advice to help address any health issues at an early stage can help to aid their recovery and reduce the length of time they are off work.
Again, having pre-set absence triggers in place can also be helpful and mean that employees reporting absences due to certain conditions (for example mental health issues or musculoskeletal disorders, two of the main drivers of long-term absence) can be referred for further assessment or signposted to appropriate sources of support and treatment much earlier, when any interventions are likely to prove more effective.
How Absentia can help:
We use pre-agreed absence triggers to ensure that those cases requiring additional clinical support are immediately escalated to one of our in-house team of expert Occupational Health Advisors for a same-day follow-up call. They will discuss the current absence with the employee and offer focused, professional medical advice on managing their condition and anything they can do themselves to hasten their recovery.
Following the call, the nurse will send recommendations back to management on what steps they can take to support the employee back to health and whether any workplace adjustments or onward referral into occupational health are required. This means that your managers will be equipped with all the information they need to be able to manage the absence more proactively from the start and ensure a swifter, more successful return to work.
4. Be consistent in completing return to work interviews
Especially when it comes to managing short-term absence (which is most often linked to minor illness or injuries or non-medical issues), strict adherence to absence procedures is key. Indeed, return to work interviews have been shown to be one of the most effective interventions for sustainably reducing absence rates. It’s therefore vital to ensure that managers are consistent in completing them after every absence and within expected timeframes.
These interviews provide an opportunity to talk with the employee about the specific details of their illness, determine if there are any work-related or external factors contributing to their pattern of absence, and discuss whether they require any support going forward to help improve their attendance.
How Absentia can help:
With Absentia, every time an absence is closed on our system, the relevant line manager will receive an auto-generated email prompting them to complete a return to work interview and containing a link to an online return-to-work form. Pre-populated with all the data we have captured for the absence, along with questions specific to the stated absence reason, these dynamic forms will aid your managers in conducting more structured and meaningful discussions with their employees and ensure that any underlying issues are effectively addressed.
Not only does this make it easy for your managers to remain compliant with your absence protocols, it also helps your employees to feel more supported and minimises the likelihood of repeat absences occurring.
5. Understand your absence data
They say you can’t manage what you can’t measure but capturing accurate absence data is only the first step.
To sustainably reduce absence, it’s important that you regularly review and analyse the data you’ve recorded so that you can identify the key trends across your organisation, determine the root cause behind any absence spikes and then take proactive steps to address these issues.
How Absentia can help:
With Absentia, you’ll be able to access detailed management information reports displaying collated absence data for your entire organisation, giving you at-a-glance visibility of the main factors affecting absence across different areas of your business. Our reporting platform also allows you to drill down and easily compare different data sets, allowing you to achieve a much greater level of understanding and insight so you can develop more targeted solutions. Over time, it can also help you to measure the success of any initiatives you introduce, so you can focus your efforts (and spending) on those solutions that will be most effective or have the most impact.
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