Employee absence costs UK businesses around £29 billion each year, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers. But absent employees can also have another cost for employers. From impacting productivity to negatively affecting the rest of the team. And while most workplace absences are probably genuine, other factors can contribute. Absences can often become split into two categories:

  • Motivational: job satisfaction, work ethic, compensation.
  • Logistical: ill-health, childcare responsibilities, transport difficulties.

Whatever the reasons behind it, employers need the right tools to monitor absence and measure the costs to the business. It's then possible to begin managing absence and more importantly, create a plan for cutting employee absence.

More than just a financial cost

Most companies know too well of the cost of employee absences. From occupational sick pay, statutory sick pay, covering overtime and temporary cover. But there are also other knock-on effects, especially when an employee is frequently absent.

  • Lowers morale and increases resentment amongst staff, who will often have to cover for absent colleagues.
  • Breakdown of team collaboration and project work.
  • Knowledge gaps, leading to poor customer service.
  • Lower productivity.
  • Staff feel less respectful towards company policy after seeing it regularly broken without consequence.

Sickness absence policy

A policy outlining how employees should proceed in terms of absences should become an employer's first step. Having this policy in place will give you the framework you may need to launch disciplinary proceedings. Use the policy to make it clear to your employees that you will not tolerate unjustified absence. A sick leave policy should include:

  • Clear notification procedures that tell staff how they must notify their employer and by when.
  • Contact requirements during sickness absence and how often they need to phone in with updates.
  • Details of the information your employees need to provide in order to support their absence.
  • Information about fit notes and how they work.
  • Information about return to work interviews.
  • Policy on payments during absence and explanation of Statutory Sick Pay (SSP).
  • A failure to follow the policies and procedures could end in disciplinary action and loss of sick pay.

Effective absence management tools

A number of different tools can help manage staff absence. These tools will benefit the organisation, but also boost staff well-being.

  • Monitoring: Whether you need to tackle short or long-term absence, it's ideal to start with monitoring employee absences. You cannot manage absences effectively if you don't understand the situation you need to deal with.
  • Return to work interviews: Deters non-genuine absences and ensures an employee's carefully managed return to work. Also helps identify any underlying health issues, enabling employers to implement measures to help workers avoid future absences.
  • Incentives for good attendance: From cash rewards to extra days holidays. An increasing number of businesses now offer incentives to staff to boost good attendance and discourage absences.
  • Flexible working: Flexible working opportunities help staff to achieve an improved work/life balance. This helps reduce the chances of people developing stress-related issues.
  • Training: Can help employees and managers identify and cope with stress, mental health problems and other wellbeing issues.

Tackling absenteeism

Repeated absenteeism may indicate a more serious problem. Its vital employers understand the truth behind the absence. If an employee has reasonable justification for their absences, it might be possible to reach an arrangement with them. A flexible working arrangement for example. However, if either party does not accept the compromise, disciplinary measures may need to become the next step. However, dependent on the reason for the absences, a capability review may become required instead.

Absence management is key to looking after your staff and the organisation as a while. By actively managing staff absence, you can cut sickness absence and reduce the cost implications for your business.

An article by HR Solutions, providers of practical HR advice