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  • Writer's pictureShona

Absence Management

Updated: Jun 9, 2022

Over the last couple of weeks, I have been supporting clients with an increasing number of absence management cases and I imagine they're not the only ones dealing with the problems that employee absence throws up.

When we talk about absences, it's in reference to unexpected absences like sickness absence.

Sickness absence is one of the biggest problems that companies of all shapes and sizes encounters. And, if it is left unmanaged, it can have a massive impact on your business.

For one thing, absences cost you money! In 2020, employee absences cost employers an average of £503 per person for the year. If you add that up against your employee headcount, you could be looking at spending tens of thousands of pounds just on people not being at work!! I don't know about you, but I am not about that life!

Money aside for a minute, absence also has a detrimental impact on other areas of your business.

It can impact team morale if they are regularly picking up someone else's work which in turn impacts engagement, which in turn impacts productivity. Employee absence may mean that you have to let your customers down which impacts your relationship with them. It may mean that you don't hit your goals because of the drop in productivity.

So we know that absence is an important issue, but what can you do about it?!


We know that people get sick from time to time. And that's okay because you're never going to be able to prevent people from being poorly. BUT, there are several steps you can take in your business to keep absence at a reasonable level.

Set triggers and hold people accountable.

An absence trigger is exactly what is sounds like, it is the level of absences that triggers action in your business. There are no right or wrong absence triggers, you simply have to decide what you think is a reasonable level of sickness for a person to have in a set period e.g. 3 absences in 12 months.

If you want to get fancy, you can use something called the Bradford Factor to calculate an absence score for people and set triggers. The Bradford Factor allows you to target employees who have persistent short term absence.

The calculation is: Days of absence x Instances of absence x Instances of absence

Let's say you have 2 employees who have both had 10 days of sickness.

Employee 1 had one period of sickness which lasted for 10 days, their Bradford Score would be 10*1*1 = 10

Employee 2 had 10 periods of sickness which all lasted for 1 day each. Their Bradford Score would be 10*10*10 = 1000

Whatever trigger you set, it is important that you have a set procedure in place to enable you to hold people accountable when they reach the trigger point. Will you have an informal chat with them at the trigger point or will it be a more formal absence meeting?

Have an absence management policy and procedure

I can't stress this point enough. Absence management can get complicated when there are pregnancy related issues or absences relating to a disability or long term health condition. So I strongly recommend that you have a clear absence management policy and procedure in place to help you be consistent and transparent in your management of these issues and to help you avoid potential discrimination claims. Ain't nobody got time for that 👎

Review your working practices

Absence management tends to be a very reactive process, so this often gets overlooked. But it's so crucial! If you notice an increase in absence levels across your workforce, set some time aside to review what hours people have been working. Has there also been an increase in overtime? Have we lost key members of staff which is putting pressure on the remaining team? Are there any other factors within the business which might be contributing to people getting run down/burnt out/stressed and therefore more likely to get poorly?

We often forget that our human resource is...well, human! If people are worked hard, pushed to their limit, stressed out, haven't taken holiday in over 3 months, it's very likely they will go off sick. So utilise the other weapons in your management arsenal to prevent that from happening and save yourself some cash!

I recently came across an organisation who couldn't work out why new employees kept calling in sick and then resigning. When we looked at their business as a whole, they were paying the bare minimum, offered statutory minimum holidays, no benefits and the basic working week was 47.5 hours with 30 minutes unpaid break. Plus the team regularly worked up to 20 hours of overtime.

I put myself in the employee's position. How would I feel if I worked 60-70 hours a week for minimum wage, got minimum holidays, no paid breaks and no time at home with my family? Knackered and a bit miffed was my answer!!

So, whilst you will never be able to prevent people from going off sick, you can encourage them to take ownership of their health, help them to achieve a good work-life balance and manage the employees who take every Monday morning off sick appropriately!

Shona x

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