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  • Writer's pictureShona

'Tis the Season to be Absent

Updated: May 7, 2022

I've written blogs before about absence because it really is the number one issue that ALL companies struggle with.

But this week's blog is going to focus a little more on festive absences.

Typically absences at Christmas time occur for two main reasons:

  1. Genuine sickness/ burnout

  2. Wanting time off

Handling Sickness & Burnout

For usual things like cold & flu, mental health, stress, back pain, COVID etc etc, check out my blog post on managing absence for my tips on how to handle it. Be prepared for absence levels to rise over the winter, especially when it comes to COVID.

Now when it comes to burnout, this typically occurs this time of year when the business experiences a ramp up in customer orders particularly in production/retail environments. If an employee goes off sick around this time of year with any sort of burnout or stress reaction, it's important that you identify the cause with the employee.

Sure, you still want to go through the usual absence management steps, but ultimately if you don't address the triggers, you'll never resolve the issue.

Consider things like:

  • How much overtime has the employee worked recently?

  • When was the last time they took any holiday?

  • Do they take their allocated rest breaks?

  • Have there been any changes in the business recently?

  • Is there anything going on for them personally which could be contributing to things?

These will help you put actionable steps in place to support the employee to avoid burnout next year.

Wanting time off

If your business closes down for Christmas, this typically won't be an issue you come across, unless your employees have not left enough holiday to take Christmas off. In this case you have three options:

  1. Get them to work

  2. Allow unpaid leave

  3. Allow them to use some of next year's holiday (provided that still leaves them with the statutory minimum to take next year).

However, if your business operates 24/7/365 you will know the challenges that come up when you are asking staff to work over the festive period.


If December is a peak operating time for your business, you could to consider a holiday ban over the festive period. This would ensure that holiday requests can be managed fairly across the team.

If you are able to allow holiday over the Christmas period, I would ensure that you keep a record of who has which days off over Christmas to avoid the same employees having Christmas Day etc off each year. You might even want to allocate it on a rota basis.

Remember that all employees want to spend Christmas with their loved ones, so you need to implement a fair process that doesn't discriminate against anyone. For example, always allowing employees with children to have Christmas off puts employees who don't or can't have children at a disadvantage.

"Sickness" Absence

Usually, I would advise you not to be too focused on how genuine an absence was and focus on the sickness itself. However this time of year, you might find that if an employee request for holiday or a shift swap gets denied, they may not show up for that shift.

This then leads to two potential management procedures.

If the employee calls in sick for the day, treat it like a usual absence but discuss with them how suspect it looks when they get back to work.

If they don't turn up at all, you can use an AWOL procedure to discipline them.

Remember that whatever happens this festive season, focus on the facts and use your management processes to deal with it.

Failing that, you know a good HR Consultant you can call 😉

Shona x

P.S did you know that I now offer a cloud based HR System which can help you manage holidays, sickness and unpaid leave with ease? CLICK HERE to get the info.

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