October 10

With the onset of winter comes the rise in absenteeism . . .

Rates in staff absenteeism soar in winter and unexpected absences can affect business productivity and profits. If they become a regular occurrence they may affect morale and motivation.
A real ‘sticking’ point for employers facing absenteeism is making the decision as to whether the absence of their employees is genuine or not. In a CBI Absence Study in 2011, almost a third of employers reported believing that more than 20% of their staff absence was not genuine, with 93% believing that sick notes were issued too readily by GPs. Illnesses such as colds and flu were the most frequently mentioned reason for sick leave; stress the second most common; followed by complaints of back pain and recurring medical conditions.
While it may be difficult to plan for unexpected absences, as an employer there are steps you can take to help you deal with the problem and minimise the potential disruption:
• Ensure staff understand the sickness absence policy and that it is followed consistently throughout the business.
• An effective policy should cover the following: 
– Method of notification if an employee is late, ill or absent for any other reason 
– When they should submit a self-certification form or medical certificate,
– Sick pay arrangements, 
– The occasions when time off may be permitted, 
– The consequences of not complying with the policy.
• Make it company policy to always carry out a ‘return to work’ interview – to welcome back the employee, check they are well enough to be back at work, find out why they were away and update them with any news. It may also deter staff from feigning illness.
• By implementing a common practice for recording sick days, you can glean key data such as the number of working days lost, the frequency of an employee’s sickness and whether absenteeism is more commonplace within a particular department. This may help you detect and tackle any underlying issues such as workplace bullying.
• Unhappy staff are more likely to take time off. Creating a friendly environment, where staff feel valued as part of a team and where flexible, family friendly policies are in place is likely to prove more effective at keeping absenteeism to a minimum.
• Cases of genuine long-term sickness or regular occurrences of short-term sickness, should be handled sensitively. Regular contact with an absent employee will help to prevent them from feeling isolated and will provide you with a clearer idea of their situation. You should establish whether their illness amounts to a disability and if so reasonable adjustments must be made to help the employee return to work and carry out their role more easily.

The CBI Absence Study in 2011 reported that staff are each absent from work for, on average, 6.5 days a year. Unauthorised absence is normally the ‘odd day off’– whether paid or unpaid it is costly to an organisation as it is unpredictable and can result in deadlines being missed, lowered customer satisfaction, lower moral among colleagues and even lost business. Setting out clear policies, monitoring absences and understanding your legal requirements will enable you to keep on top of the issues and hopefully reduce the amount of absenteeism within the workplace.