Four strategies for reducing absenteeism

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.

Still though, there are certain 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 strategies 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 how you can make reasonable adjustments to get staff back into their roles

Coming back to work after a period of absence can be daunting.  What can you do to make the process more manageable?  It might be the case that you can slightly alter roles and responsibilities so you can encourage long-term absentees to come back to their jobs and ease themselves back into routine.

In practical terms, you could agree to shorter working hours for the first couple of weeks, or you could ensure that the staff member has a reduced workload.  If you’re unsure about what you could do, talk to the individual in question to establish a way forward that will help them.

Take a flexible approach to managing the rota

It’s important to recognise that staff 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.

Ask yourself 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?  Give us a call today.

Rachel Wade, Senior HR Consultant, Opt HR Limited, rachelwade@opthr.co.uk, 024 7627 2908

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