​Are you struggling with out of control absence numbers within your business? You’re not alone if this is you. The Office for United Kingdom's National Statistics (ONS) reported that in 2022 the sickness absence rate (percentage of working hours lost because of sickness or injury) rose to 2.6% in 2022, an increase of 0.4 percentage points from 2021 and the highest it has been since 2004 when it was 2.7%. The ONS estimated 185.6 million working days were lost because of sickness or injury in 2022 which was a record high. The most common reason for sickness absence was minor illness which accounted for 29.3% of occurrences. As well as considering the cost and days lost through sickness absence there are other costs to the business that need to be considered, not least; increase workload and pressure placed on team members, lower team morale, lower productivity, fractured working relations, increased absenteeism from overwork colleagues, and a lack of continuity of service.

Getting the process right

The impact of sickness absence can really hurt small teams and businesses so the importance of getting absence management right within your business is imperative. There are multiple nuances to absence and making sure that you are treating and recording each absence correctly is a priority to make sure employees are supported and managed correctly as well as ensuring you are not inadvertently discriminating against an employee. All types of absences need to be recorded and handled differently from sickness absence to unpaid leave, compassionate leave, family leave, time off dependant, maternity, paternity, shared parental leave to AWOL, and many more. Reviewing your handbook is the best place to start to make sure that you have all the employment rights outlined correctly, then employees can understand their entitlements and managers understand the process they need to follow.

Two ladies speaking face to face

​All sickness absences must have a return to work (RTW) completed, even if it’s just a half day, they all add up and can be a great opportunity to discuss any concerns regarding absence levels the manager may have or an opportunity for the employee to disclose important information that may help you improve their wellbeing or attendance.

Putting in informal catch-ups following on from the period of compassionate leave, or emergency leave is also good practice to build strong trusting relationships with team members where they can understand that you care and how you can support them.

Ensuring that all absences are also correctly recorded in your HR Information System (HRIS) and reviewed against your company absence triggers means a fair and transparent process can be followed. Without clear absence triggers, moving employees into absence management leaves you open to risks of unfair or constructive dismissal and discrimination claims.

Unsustainable absence levels are not the only thing for managers to look out for, patterns can also become apparent when looking at the data; are the absences only on a Friday, payday, or following on from annual leave? Bringing concerns of patterns to the employees’ attention may uncover underlying issues that need to be worked through or supported. ​

Middle aged man and woman talking in an office

​Top tips

A great tip is to ensure that all completed RTW forms are shared with the employee following the meeting, as this is a chance for the employee to inform you of anything that is incorrect – by allowing this opportunity you are ensuring your records and information is recorded correctly and the employee has had full visibility of the records.

Discussing the concerns relating to absence levels before you’re at the point of needing to informally address the concerns is conducive to an open transparent process and will ensure employees are not surprised by any informal action as it’s already been discussed.

Remember to refer employees to the support available: EAP, local support groups, GP, 111, charities, and occupational health. Putting in place stress risk assessments and wellbeing action plans are also great places to show the support you have provided employees when mental health is impacting their wellbeing.

If you need further support on absence management or any other HR matter please let in contact with us to discuss how we can support you to ensure your team thrive.