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Key tips for managing absence

By Tracey George MIRP on 20 Jan 2016

It’s January. Christmas and New Year’s Eve are over. It’s still cold outside and the days have more dark than light hours. Suddenly everyone seems to be off work sick or injured, from over-indulging, over-partying catching those dreaded germs. Research by Mercer, showed January has the highest level of sickness absence.

Having lots of employees absent on sick leave can have a costly and negative impact on not for profit organisations, including delays and drops in the quality of services offered and low productivity and morale. This month, we look at the costs of staff absences and how to handle and minimise leave.

Key findings and costs as a result of absence

According to the CIPD Absence Management report 2015, the average number of days lost through absence per employee per year in the non-profit sector is 7.8 days. This has dropped since the peak in 2011, when it was nearly 9 days, but has risen slightly since 2014’s level of 7.4 days.

The absence rate for charities is lower than in the public sector, but is higher than the national average for all sectors. The CIPD report also shows that the level of absence tends to be higher in larger organisations, regardless of sector.

People are generally absent due to sickness, family responsibilities or unauthorised leave, eg holiday, where the employee has the odd day off with no valid reason. Absence can be complex and as a result is often ignored by managers. 27% of non-profit organisations that responded to the CIPD report monitor the cost of employee absence; the current median level is £554 per employee per year. This is obviously a significant financial burden for charities, and a strong argument for having strategies in place to manage absence.

Key tips on dealing with absence in the workplace

Firstly, you should have a procedure in which all managers are trained and adhere to (don’t forget to take into account legal requirements, like the Data Protection and Equality Acts.)  By having a procedure, where absence will be noticed, logged and followed up, staff are less likely to take days off without a valid reason.

Draw up a policy, which is shared with all staff. This could include the following:

  • Employees should phone in on each day of absence and report to a line manager before their shift starts (where possible.)
  • On returning to work, ask all employees to complete a back to work form and follow up with an interview with their line manager or HR, to ensure there is no further follow up or issues.
  • If sickness continues review at regular stages and work with the employee to establish a return to work date.
  • Where unexplained absence continues, then you should follow your disciplinary procedure.

The CIPD Absence Management report, reports that return to work interviews are the most effective approach for managing short-term absence (61%.) Approaches such as restricting sick pay, flexible working, changes to working patterns were seen as less effective in managing short term absence, although slightly more effective in the not for profit sector than overall.

Reducing absence and costs in the long term

Most organisations already record data on staff absence, but don’t necessarily use this information any further, eg to look for hotspots. Do you see a typical rise in absence in January? Do you look at the impact this has on your organisation? Do you combine with other data, such as engagement survey data, in order to identify trends and possible issues?

To avoid some long term absences such as stress you could consider offering the following:

  • Ensure you are proactive in offering a healthy and safe working environment
  • Offering corporate gym membership
  • Offering flu jabs
  • Have healthy food available as snacks (such as fruit)

These in turn can not only boost health, but morale, reducing staff absenteeism.

If you are struggling with staff absence, TPP have skilled temporary staff immediately available able to cover sickness leave. For further information contact TPP on 020 7198 6000 or info@tpp.co.uk 

Useful Links

Softworks - Bradford Factor (Forumla to measure employee absenteeism)
Small Business - How to calculate employee absenteeism  rate quarterly