Managing sickness absence in the workplace

6 mins
Sellick  Partnership

By Sellick Partnership

Every employee in your business is entitled to paid sick leave, however with sickness absence costing over £16 billion in the UK alone in 2020 it's crucial to try and tackle any root causes.

This is a very sensitive issue and often one that HR Managers find difficult to deal with, but sickness absense can have an adverse impact on business performance. It is therefore important to have a suitable plan in place to try and recude sick leave in the workplace where possible. 

Here we look in detail at what HR teams and businesses generally can do to when it comes to managing sickness absense and alleviate the strain, offering some sick leave management strategies, as well as information to ensure productivity is not lost as a result.

Employee benefits

You can immediately begin reducing sick leave in the workplace by offering your employees a benefits package which includes a private healthcare plan. This will enable staff to access GP appointments quicker, and they typically include counselling sessions that are available. 

This can also help when employee absense is caused by stress or poor mental health. 

You could also include annual flu vaccinations for employee that want them. This could combat seasonal flu that can spread during the colder months. 

Recurring sick leave?

Sick leave becomes a problem when an employee exceeds the amount deemed acceptable by your organisation. But that ‘trigger’ amount is unique to your company. You can base it on average sick leave levels at your own company, or the national or sector average.

You may set your trigger amount with the goal of either maintaining, or reducing, sick leave levels. Anything above this could be deemed as recurring sick leave, and may need to be addressed informally of more formally with the introduction of an absence management policy. 

Ensure you collect data regarding absences

It is impossible to succeed with managing sick leave in the workplace without monitoring it. You should therefore record both the absence dates and the reason for absence. This can be done through absence forms, or you may wish to conduct more formal interviews to obtain the information needed.

Ensure your absence management policy is right

Having a written absence management policy is essential for two reasons. Firstly, it enables you to plan and communicate your sick leave management strategy, and lets line managers know how to implement it.

Secondly, a written policy ensures consistent and fair treatment of all employees across your organisation. This is vital, because employees should never feel victimised or singled out because of how much sick leave they may take.

How to manage recurring sick leave in your organisation

Effective methods for dealing with recurring sick leave focus on discovering the reasons behind the absence and taking action to solve the problem. These can be done by:

Conducting return-to-work interviews

Return-to-work interviews are an excellent way to:

  • Demonstrate that managing sick leave at your organisation.

  • Ask the employee about the reasons for their sick leave, so you can offer support if needed.

  • Collect data on reasons for short-term absence.

Line managers should prepare for each return-to-work interview by reviewing the employee’s attendance and any previous interview forms they may have acquired. This provides an ideal opportunity to spot recurring sick leave trends and raise appropriate concerns.

Trigger mechanisms

Trigger mechanisms are among the most commonly-used short-term absence management methods HR managers can use. As discussed above, you should set the ‘trigger’ level of absence days to meet the needs of your organisation. When an employee reaches the trigger level you can then begin formal procedures. These procedures may include:

  • Carrying out an attendance review, in which you discuss the employee’s reasons for being off and offer support where needed.

  • Issuing a warning or starting formal disciplinary procedures – when appropriate, for example if their recurring sick leave has become unacceptable or is not for legitimate reasons.

Ensure you always provide support when it is needed

Sick leave is a very sensitive issue and needs to be handled with care by HR managers. Absence management methods should not make staff feel punished for being unwell.

In the majority of cases, employees’ reasons for taking sick leave will be genuine — in which case, the best way to get them back to work is to support and encourage them. After identifying an employee’s recurring sick leave and reviewing their attendance with them you should consider:

  • Special circumstances such as disability or an ongoing medical condition.

  • Support you can offer such as workplace adaptations or referral to external services.

  • Regular one-to-one reviews and PDPs (personal development plans) to discuss the employee’s progress.

Throughout this process it is important to always remember that people cannot help being unwell, but instead you should let them know this is purely formality and that they are not being punished.

Get in touch with us

Please feel free to reach out to our recruitment team for any further advice or assistance by contacting us here.  Alternatively you can check out more resources to assist you here.