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Understanding Absence Management: Essential Insights

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Absence management means trying to reduce the amount of time your employees are absent due to illness or injury, where by illness we mean both physical and mental health. We call this “absenteeism”.

Absence management can be formal or informal.

Formally speaking, it's about:

  • Policies and Procedures
  • Rules and regulations

This could include things like requiring a doctor's note for an absence due to illness of 5 days or more. Discussions about returning to work or special measures and support you offer your employees to keep them healthy at work.

Unofficially, we're talking about your company culture:

  • How does management talk about absenteeism?
  • Is celebrating sick viewed as something to be punished, or is it viewed with compassion?

This is an important issue and it is important to find a balance between running your business and being a decent employer. If you approach it correctly, you will find that the two go hand in hand.

Why is absence management important?

Firstly, it is important because employee absence means a loss of productivity.

A day away from work has a financial cost;

  • How much is her salary?
  • How much revenue do they generate?
  • How much does it cost to find someone to do your job?

And then there is the general disorder that you need to consider.

  • Who will take over their work?
  • Can we serve all of our customers?
  • Can we maintain the quality?
  • Are projects being pushed back?

Interestingly, absenteeism rates in the UK have fallen by 50% since 1993. Sounds good, but maybe it isn't... as the ONS suggests:

''Private sector (absence) rates could be lower because employees are less likely to be paid for a period of sickness. Presenteeism may also be increasing, i.e. H. people go to work even though they are sick.''

Second, there is a human cost.

Nobody wants people to get sick. Of course, we want our friends and colleagues to stay fit and healthy.

If we can accept that the workplace can be a contributing factor to illness, then we are on the right track.

Think about workplace stress, employee burnout, the physical aspects of work. Relationships with friends and colleagues. And hey, since COVID I think we're all more aware of how bugs spread in close proximity - do you work in a crowded office with no ventilation?!

Establishing an absence management policy

When we talk about absence management, we generally refer to unplanned absence. Think about illness, health problems or circumstances such as bereavement and childcare. (Planned absences, such as annual leave or parental leave, are not included).

Your policy is a simple document that explains how employees should report their absence and how you will handle their absence.

Don't have an absence policy yet?

Don't worry, we've created an employee absence policy template. You can copy or download them without any further conditions.

A common tool for managing sickness absence is the Bradford factor. This is a mathematical formula that is used to count a person's sick days and the number of sick calls. A higher score may mean the start of disciplinary action.

It is a punitive instrument that is crude and does not take into account the real reasons for absenteeism.

The FT's Sarah O'Connor called it: (this link may be chargeable, sorry)

''A simple mathematical formula with mysterious origins and dangerous consequences.''

Really, steer clear.

Our guide to Bradford Factor alternatives goes into more detail and suggests a more compassionate approach to absenteeism. The carrot instead of the stick.

Preventive absence management

Your workplace policies, your company culture and your attitude towards well-being all play a role in absence management.

Make no mistake: Satisfied, motivated and well-rested employees are less likely to take sick leave. The best way to achieve this is to have well-planned vacations throughout the year.

The importance of recovery cannot be underestimated. Not only for the health of your employees, but also for their productivity. This means that an appropriate level of annual leave is granted, which should be used evenly throughout the year.

(See our article on annual leave policies that get it right - and why giving the smallest amount of leave is no longer enough).

You also have the option to choose other types of vacation, E.g.:

  • Illness-free days (preventive health measures such as therapies or check-ups)
  • Duvet Days (short-term one-day absences to stay at home and recover), and
  • Lifetime vacation (for major life events that don't fit into other categories)

Another example is that your parental leave policy does not allow or encourage fathers to take more than a few days of leave for the birth of their child.

What are the consequences of this?

  • Does it contribute to an unbalanced family life?
  • Does the father get enough time to build a bond with his child at this early stage of development?
  • Does this create resentment towards you as an employer?
  • Does it cause stress?

Finally, attractive and fair absence regulations can also have a positive PR effect. The press loves stories, and if you're a leader with progressive action, you can sing and dance about it.

Manage absence the friendlier way

The most sensible way to deal with absenteeism is to be a decent employer that you enjoy working for.

This may be easier said than done, but you don't have to make sweeping changes to improve things a little.

Start by defaulting to “yes” when your employees need time off and show a little more flexibility.

This will be followed by changes to the guidelines. For minor changes to existing policies that loosen the rules a bit, start small.

If you are unsure how it will work, be honest and say so, and be open to feedback:

"We're running a 6-month trial. We're excited to see how it works out. Let us know what you think?"

Adopt a healthy, open attitude toward time off and people won't stop working so quickly. You are on the winning side!

Absence management software

There's nothing worse than getting to work and realizing half your team isn't there, or not knowing if you have enough money left for a long weekend. That's why we've developed a simple absence management software that allows you to easily book absence times, so you can see who is free when, and so you can keep track of the different reasons for absence without confusing spreadsheets. What's not to love about it!

You can test the software for free and contact our support team if you have any questions.

Effective absence management balances productivity and compassion. Explore insights from IceHrm to foster a healthy workplace culture.

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