What stops you managing absence effectively in your business?

I am sure that sickness absence is a cost that your business could do without. Whatever industry you are in, the costs of lost productivity, management time, temporary cover, increased health insurance and all the other costs which arise from absence, should be minimised.

The first step in managing sickness absence is to know what is going on in your business right now. Having an absence monitoring system in place is crucial, and amazingly there are a huge number of businesses who don’t have this. So if your business has no system in place, you really do need to sort one out!

If you do have a system, now is the time to review it and check how well it is working. Who is collecting the data and what is done with it? Is it used effectively? Are all the senior and line managers getting the correct information on a regular basis? What is the data telling HR? Make sure that your system is working effectively for your business.

The second step is to calculate the cost of absence in your business. I wrote a post recently – How to calculate the cost of sickness absence in your business. This is a figure that all businesses should know for a number of reasons, not least to help make a case to senior management that absence is an issue. Also it enables you to measure the return on any investment you make on reducing those costs.

When staff are off sick there are some basic things that the business needs to do. I am sure that you all know these, so the question is, are you doing them effectively?

  • Keep in regular touch with the employee while they are off sick (How often should you phone your staff when they are off sick?). This is particularly important when the employee is off with stress
  • Be reassuring that their job is safe – this is particularly important in today’s climate, which is creating a huge sense of fear amongst staff about job security
  • Ensure that the employee doesn’t come back to work until they are ready
  • Be prepared to discuss a phased return to work
  • Seek the employee’s permission to keep their colleagues informed of the situation
  • Ensure colleague support during the return to work
  • Speak to the employee regularly when they return to work to monitor their progress

If your business does not have some of the above measures in place, what is stopping you dealing with sickness absence? These are the most common reasons I come across:-

  • The business hasn’t decided who is responsible for managing sickness absence. Is it the line managers or HR? The answer is that both have to work together, but it needs to be clear where the ultimate responsibility lies. Could sickness absence be a key performance indicator in your business? In which case, who would be responsible for meeting the targets?
  • Managers and HR think the problem is too difficult to tackle, particularly when absence is stress-related. Businesses accept absence as a fact of life, and don’t realise there is plenty they can do to manage it
  • Time – managers and HR don’t have enough time to deal with situations as they arise. The problem is that if absence is not dealt with promptly, then it will become a much bigger and more costly problem further down the line
  • Managers lack understanding and confidence to deal with staff in potentially difficult and sensitive situations. Stress is a subject that many managers would rather avoid
  • There is no clear, fair and consistent system of monitoring absence
  • There is a culture that sickness days are an extension of the annual holiday entitlement
  • Managers fear “getting it wrong” and ending up in an employment tribunal
  • Management is setting an example of being off sick

All these are valid points, however if you want to successfully tackle absence management you need to be aware of what is stopping your business from doing so. An honest assessment of the situation and attitudes is required. Also action is needed to put systems in place and provide the necessary training so that everyone understands the systems and has the confidence and skills to carry out their responsibilities.

This article was written by Charlie Damonsing. CLAssociates specialises in helping businesses manage stress in the workplace, providing consultancy, training and 1-2-1 support. For further details please contact Charlie on 0771 559 6487.

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