How to Effectively Manage Sickness Absence

Wednesday 05th June 2019

How to Effectively Manage Sickness Absence

a photo of the article author

Article By Dave Morman

How to Effectively Manage Sickness Absence

According to a recent survey, Health and Wellbeing at Work, completed by CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development and Simplyhealth, the health plan provider, the average level of employee absence is 5.9 days per employee per year, or 2.6% of working time lost.

By far the most common reason given for being absent from work was minor illness. More importantly, mental ill-health is increasingly prevalent as a cause of both short and long-term absence. Together with stress, musculoskeletal injuries and acute medical conditions, it remains most commonly responsible for long-term absence.

The following steps can help you manage absence in the workplace more effectively:

1. Measure all periods of absence

This will enable you to analyse:

  • The amount of time being lost as a consequence of sickness
  • Where absence occurs most
  • How often individual employees are absent

2. Monitor each absence by:

  • Keeping records of individual periods of sickness absence
  • Having accurate records that show individual instances of absence together with the duration, the reason for absence and where in the organisation the absentee works
  • Carrying out a return to work interview with employees following each period of absence
  • Ensuring that records can easily be analysed by section or department, month and year
  • Assuring staff that any sensitive personal data will only be kept for as long as necessary and will only be accessed by named individuals
  • Making sure that absence measurement figures show the scale and nature of any absence problem and which category of absence is involved. For example: long term sickness / short term certificated or uncertified sickness / unauthorised absence and lateness.

3. Deal with long-term sickness by:

  • Discussing the problem with the employee concerned
  • Considering alternative work or working arrangements where this is possible
  • Deciding whether the job can be covered by other employees or temporary replacements. You also need to consider for how long the job can be kept open
  • Seeking medical opinions from the employee’s GP

It is important that employers consider the provisions set out in the Equality Act 2010 when dealing with long-term absences.

4. Consider Supportive Policies

The Health and Wellbeing at Work Survey found that the most common supportive policies for managing absence are:

  • Providing leave for family circumstances
  • Changing work patterns or environment
  • Employee Assistance Programmes
  • Occupational Health Involvement

5. Tackle Presenteeism

Another pattern identified in the survey was that more than four-fifths of respondents have observed ‘presenteeism’ (working whilst sick) in their organisation over the past twelve months. A quarter of these report it has increased over this period. Very few believe it has decreased.

It was highlighted that most organisations are not doing anything to discourage presenteeism. Just under a third of those who have observed presenteeism within their organisation are taking steps to discourage it, although this is an improvement on last year (when 25% took steps). Efforts to tackle presenteeism most commonly rely on line managers sending home people who are unwell and better guidance for employees. Just 30% of those taking steps are investigating its potential causes.


Please note that this information is not intended as specific advice.

Brunsdon is not responsible for the content of third party web sites.