By Adrian Lewis, commercial director of Activ Absence

Every good HR manager knows that absenteeism will spike at certain times of the year and around certain events – especially major sporting tournaments.

With the 2015 Rugby World Cup about to kick off, companies should brace themselves for an increase in sick days during the tournament as fans overindulge while watching the 'school night' fixtures.

The first match is England v Fiji which takes place at 8.00 on Friday, and one to watch for our Welsh colleagues is Sunday's fixture at 2.30 between Wales and Uruguay. The first Wales game is of particular interest thanks to late stage injuries to key players, Leigh Halfpenny and Rhys Webb both sustained injuries in a warm up game with Italy and now Eli Walker has pulled out with a hamstring injury. Wales is holding its breath and waiting to see if the late entries to the squad can deliver.

It's no secret that Monday is the most common day for staff to 'pull a sickie', so Welsh businesses should be prepared for a few calls this Monday, and wise HR Managers will have a plan in place for the whole tournament.

'Sickies' make life difficult for you and your people - generally short term absences are hardest to cover and impact more on the business than long term sickness absence. Here are my suggestions on how to reduce absence during sporting events:

  1. Be aware and plan accordingly
With the best will in the world, there are always people who will over-indulge during and after a match, whether it's football, rugby or even cricket! HR should keep an eye on sporting fixtures and allocate staff resources and prepare for possible absences. Rugby World Cup fixture dates are here!
  1. Make sure you have a clear absence policy
The single most important step you need to take is to make your policy on absence consistent throughout your organisation and to make your staff aware of it.

More than half of employed adults believe their work performance is negatively impacted when attendance policies are not fairly enforced throughout an organisation.

If you don't have an absence policy, or would like to review it we keep a list of HR consultants and solicitors on our website who we know and trust and any of them would be happy to draft one for you.

  1. Educate employees
The more information your employees have, the more empowered (and therefore motivated) they are likely to be. Many staff do not understand that several short term unplanned absences are far more disruptive to the business than long term sickness. If they were aware of this they would be more likely to book planned annual leave days rather than a ‘sickie’. The Bradford Factor is a great tool for illustrating this.
  1. Use return-to-work forms and interviews
These can help identify absence patterns at an early stage.

You should ask the employee to complete a return-to-work form in order to: welcome employees back, check they are well enough to be at work, identify the cause of the absence, find out whether they have a disability (including invisible ones like asthma, diabetes, epilepsy etc.), discuss any help you might provide to ease the employee’s return to work etc. It is also vital to establish if any employee sickness has a work-related cause early on, so you can quickly tackle any health and safety issues.

Once a pattern is identified (and smart absence management tools can identify these for you using trigger point alerts), you can take action. Sometimes a timely word from a line manager early on can prevent a pattern escalating into a major discipline problem involving unions, HR and legal teams - most of the time, early intervention is all that is needed.

  1. Get rid of spreadsheets!
Spreadsheets are not a good way to manage sickness and absence, they offer no reportability, they are too prone to human error and don't offer effective communication between the employee, the line manager and the HR team. That means by the time HR get involved, there is already a big problem. Don't rely on your accounts package either - it may record sickness but it doesn't manage the problem.

Absence management software is designed for purpose, it usually pays for itself and saves time and money - and businesses like ours will normally offer a free trial so you can see how much for yourself.