According to research by PwC, the annual cost of sickness absence has rocketed to £29 billion for UK organisations. Simply put, your staff are calling in sick, and it’s having a severe impact on your bottom line. If you want to mitigate the impact, it’s time to think about how you can nip the problem in the bud.

Now of course, it’s important to note that managing absenteeism isn’t about trying to ensure that every single employee is always present and correct. Even with the best people management policies and procedures, it’s highly likely that you’ll still have to pick up the phone now and again and be told that an important member of your team can’t make it into the office today.

But there are key things that you can do to make sure that the occasional absence doesn’t spiral out of control, and become a real problem for your business. Here, we’re going to outline some proven ways that you can put into action.

Clearly outline your expectations

If you don’t already have an absence policy, then this needs to be a key priority. You can’t expect staff to follow your guidelines, if they don’t even exist! A good policy will outline arrangements for calling in sick, identify trigger points that indicate that absence has reached an unacceptable level, and will be clearly communicated to all staff.

Of course, your policy won’t be worth the paper it’s written on if it doesn’t become part of the way you do business on a daily basis. Line managers need to be confident with putting it into action, and it’s vital that the rules are applied to everyone. If you have staff members with a disability, then there will be extra considerations that need to be made. For help with complex issues, speak with an HR consultant about your circumstances.

Always hold return-to-work discussions

After any period of absence, whether it’s two days or two months, there should be a return-to-work discussion between the individual and the line manager. It’s important that you establish the reason for the absence, assess what you might be able to do to support that person back into work, and follow the procedures outlined in your policy.

Even when schedules are busy, make sure that these conversations are always marked into the diary. When they’re carried out correctly, then can help you prevent a whole load of potential issues.

Think about engaging your team more in what you are trying to achieve

The reality is, is that not all 'absence' is linked to sickness. So you can have policies galore to show what you need to do, how you need to communicate and when you need to report in regards to someone being sick, but evidence suggests that those who are less engaged in their business are more likely to take days off.

Take a flexible approach to managing the workload

It’s important to recognise that your team have a life outside of your business: they may want to attend a parents’ evening, go see their favourite band, or have to take care of serious matters such an ill family member or relative. If they’re forced to choose between missing out and calling in sick, then you aren’t always going to win. There is of course un-paid dependant family leave people can take in an emergency, however most are disinclined to do so due to it being unpaid, so many don't even really see this as a viable option. 

Ask yourself instead whether it would be feasible, from an operational point of view, to add some flexibility into how working schedules are managed. From time to time, could you allow staff to swap shifts, or catch up with their work later in the week? As long as you have firm boundaries in place, this kind of approach could help you to minimise problems.

If absence is an issue in your business, then the bad news is that you probably can’t make improvements overnight. You need a considered and careful approach, and it’ll certainly be a learning curve. But when you get it right, the benefits will be huge.

Do you want to discuss your challenges with a professional, and walk away a manageable action plan so you know exactly what you need to do? Book here to get in touch today for a no-obligation chat. You’ll walk away with a clear idea about what you need to do next.

TheHRhub: the ultimate support for startups and SMEs. Sign up here for free tools and guidance.

p.s - To get ahead of your game when it comes to another area important to your employees: Reward and Recognition, download our FREE eBook: Show Me The Money! The Ultimate Guide To Reward And Recognition In An SME.

Photo Credit: Tina Franklin

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