Sickness is responsible for 90% of the UK’s absence bill and is estimated to cost British businesses £29 billion per year. Absences can affect productivity and morale if not managed efficiently, as even employees that are rarely absent can be demoralised if they have to pick up another employee’s slack.

More worrying still, in a study commissioned by Wolters Kluwer, 16% of younger workers admitted to feigning sickness to get time off work. This figure drops to 5% when the entire workforce is considered, but remember that these are only estimates. The real figure could be be much higher.

Accurately measuring absences is the first step to reducing absenteeism. There is specialist software[/nurl that can help you to deal with this task, but we have used a simple Excel spreadsheet without complaint for many years. I imagine that most SMEs could do the same.

You should measure both ‘hours lost due to absences’ and ‘frequency of absences’ for each employee. Tracking absence statistics, as well as their effect on productivity, and publishing them anonymously for your employees to see, demonstrates that you take absences seriously.

Having a formal written policy that your staff are fully aware of and have access to will be helpful if you need to discipline staff as a result of their absences.

Businesses affected by absenteeism

Consider the following:

  • Is there a legitimate reason that absenteeism has crept up? Are health and safety protocols up to standard in your workplace?
  • Do your employees trust you enough to be open and honest about any health issues they may be facing?
  • Do your employees’ contracts adequately address the procedure for absences due to sickness?
  • Do your employees have a clause in their contract which requires them to take a medical examination and release that document to you in the case of an absence dispute?
  • Are your employees expected to attend work when genuinely unfit to do so?
  • Have you demonstrated a zero-tolerance policy towards those that are absent because they simply don’t feel like coming to work?

Do your employees have a clause in their contract which enables you to conduct a returning to work interview? (This has been identified as the most effective tool for reducing absences).

Do you keep in contact, in a non-intrusive way, with sick employees throughout their illness? People generally like a phone call from their workmates when they’re genuinely ill, but a call from the boss is the last thing that a skiver wants to get!

Your absences policy should enable you to take disciplinary action when necessary. However in my experience at Paintballing Ltd, sometimes it is better to simply talk to employees about their absences before taking more drastic measures. In many cases levels of absenteeism will drop as soon as employees realise that you have taken note of their absences.

You should also be careful to ensure that you don’t fall foul of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. If an employee becomes disabled due to sickness, you may be required to accommodate them, for example, by making physical adjustments to the workspace.

Likewise, although you may legally dismiss an employee due to illness, you must first make a reasonable attempt to accommodate them. One way you can attempt to accommodate a sick worker is by arranging for an occupational health assessment.

By Justin Toohig, founder of Paintballing Lt