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5 Ways to Strike the Right Balance With Absence Management

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The looming recession and growing cost of living crisis have put just about every business in trouble.
Given the tight financial situation and the tightening labor market, every company will try to work as efficiently as possible. However, if recent figures from the ONS are to be believed, sickness absence could make this an increasingly difficult task...

ONS data shows that sickness absence reached its highest level in over a decade in 2021; almost 150 million working days were lost due to illness or injury. Given the pandemic, this will come as no surprise, but what is probably more concerning to HR managers is the fact that only 1 in 4 of these absences are due to Covid.

But it's not just sickness-related absences that are troubling human resources departments. A survey conducted by Patient Claim Line in May this year found that 76% of British workers felt compelled to go to work despite being sick. Perhaps even more worrying is that one in three admitted to doing this repeatedly.

On the one hand, HR managers must find effective strategies to help their company cope with the increasing number of absences due to illness. On the other hand, more and more employees are pushing themselves to work even when they are not fit.

The role of the HR department in compensating for sickness absence and presenteeism

Both of these issues should be viewed with concern by HR managers. Productivity in UK businesses is likely to be negatively impacted by increasing sickness absence. Of course, many employees taking short-term, unplanned absences means fewer employees are able to do the work a business needs to thrive - and that's not ideal given the current financial climate.

What is also worrying is that presenteeism appears to be driven primarily by workers' fear of losing their jobs. Patient Claim Line research found that a quarter of participants admitted they feared being fired if they took too many sick days.

With a recession looming on the horizon, it's safe to assume that people will be worried about their jobs. They will want to avoid anything that they feel could compromise their job security - even if that means having to work when they are sick. While this attitude is understandable, presenteeism can be just as damaging to a business as excessive unplanned absences.

While you can't prevent employees from contracting germs or more serious illnesses, what can employers and HR teams do to ensure they find the right balance to keep unplanned absences low while ensuring that the Employees not working when they should actually stay in bed?

Here are our five ways to find the right balance...

  1. Clear absence policy A clearly stated absence policy means everyone understands your position on sick leave and is clear about the procedures to follow. Try to keep the policy as simple as possible so that there is no room for confusion or misinterpretation. Make sure you explain the policy to all new hires as part of their induction program and ensure it is easily accessible and referenceable when needed. You can do this by including them in your HR software's shared HR portal, including them in your employee handbook, or making them accessible via an internal intranet (if you have one). Employees need to know that prolonged, short-term absence without good reason is not acceptable; however, if they are truly sick, they are not expected to come to work and will not be penalized for it. With this in mind, it is absolutely important that you record absences correctly. It's worth noting that research shows that more than half of UK adults (56%) have called in sick to take a day off at least once in the last year. Should things get out of hand and you find yourself forced to take disciplinary action, it is important that you have the key metrics to support and justify this decision.
  2. Apply the policy consistently
    Your policy isn't worth the paper it's written on if managers don't apply it consistently. Make sure there isn't a culture of "acceptance" in some teams and departments. If employees see that their colleagues regularly take sick leave without any consequences, or that they are absent for no good reason (e.g. taking excessively long lunch breaks or finishing work early), they are more likely to believe that they can get away with it too. Employees also receive very mixed messages when they see real illness being (rightly) treated with sympathy and concern in one area but not in another. Don't allow resentment to creep in among employees who see that absence is viewed and treated differently within the company. Make sure you either review the policies informally with all managers or provide short internal training to ensure everyone is familiar with the procedures and applying them correctly.
  3. Have better conversations
    Managers often sweep persistent short-term absences under the rug because they don't really know how to deal with them. They fear that taking a tough stance will lead to arguments with employees or expose them to accusations of bullying. Many supervisors are also uncomfortable dealing with real illnesses, especially serious illnesses. They don't know what questions they can ask and how they can adequately support their employees. Companies tend to assume that leaders can communicate clearly and openly with their teams, but this ability doesn't come naturally to everyone. Consider putting together a training program or providing informal coaching to give managers the confidence to adequately handle the difficult conversations that often arise around absence.
  4. Have conversations about returning to work
    Discussions about returning to work are a good way to support and reinforce your absence policy. The aim of the discussion should be to find out why the person was on sick leave, to ensure that they are fit to return to work, and to discuss whether any adjustments or short-term changes to work arrangements need to be made to facilitate their return. It's a good way to support people who have genuinely been on sick leave and find out if work-related problems are affecting their health. It's also a good way to find out what the real reasons for absences are in your company and to nip unnecessary short-term absences in the bud. Employees will think more carefully about taking sick leave if they know that when they return, they will have to report to their manager and explain the reasons for their absence. However, be sure that managers lead the conversation from a position of concern rather than a position of control, otherwise unnecessary confrontations may arise.
  5. Be transparent
    After all, employees are often not aware of the impact their absence has on the company. They don't always understand the impact on productivity or how much impact reducing absenteeism can have on the bottom line.

Thanks to the latest absence management software, it is now much easier to collect data about absences, identify patterns and determine the true costs. Don't keep the information your system gives you to yourself. If you share them openly with employees, they will understand why it is important to keep absence under control and will be much more willing to support the measures you put in place.

Try IceHrm to get witness of the best absenteeism HR software today.

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