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27 July 2022

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4 Proactive Absence Management Methods for UK Companies

In the UK labour market, sickness absenteeism rose to 2.2% in 2021, the highest it has been since 2010. That equates to around 149.3 million lost working days in total, an average of 4.6 days per worker in the UK.

In addition to illness, other legitimate reasons for taking time off work in the UK include:

  • Dealing with a mental health issue
  • Needing to help a dependent as a result of an unexpected event

Some companies have taken a reactive approach to dealing with absenteeism, notching up "black marks" against the employee for missing work. Even when employees miss work for sickness-related reasons, an employer has the right to conduct an absentee review after one month of absenteeism.

Continued absenteeism can also lead to a capability dismissal

Fear of dismissal or of loss of pay has led to something called presenteeism, where workers drag themselves to the office but get little done because they are so heavily under the weather. Forcing workers to appear when they are ill is not an excellent method to reduce absenteeism. It can also lead to more problems should workers appear when they have COVID-19 symptoms, thereby spreading the virus to other workers.

Instead, here are four proactive strategies to manage absenteeism:

Strategy 1: Educate employees on how to stay healthy

COVID-19 accounted for one in four sickness absences in 2021.

The UK government has published official guidelines on how to live safely with COVID-19, and thereby reduce the chances of receiving or transmitting it. An effective absence management method should include education on how to prevent the spread of the virus.

By educating employees about the basic actions they can take to stay healthy, you greatly reduce the chance of people spreading the virus to others.

Some of the things to educate employees on are:

  • Those who do have COVID-19 should self-isolate. This will reduce the chances of them spreading it to colleagues at work and thereby causing excessive absenteeism at the workplace.
  • People should wash their hands for at least 20 seconds using warm water and soap, then dry them with a disposable towel. Ideally, they should also sanitise their hands after washing.
  • People can keep sanitiser on their person to regularly sanitise their hands when washing isn't possible.
  • Employees should cover their coughs and sneezes using their elbows.

Strategy 2: Reduce stress at the workplace

One of the most effective absence management methods is stress reduction.

Multiple studies have revealed that several types of health issues can both be caused and aggravated by stress. Issues that can be made worse as a result of stress include:

  • Heart disease
  • Alzheimer's
  • Depression
  • Asthma
  • Diabetes
  • Mental health issues

In the UK, work-related stress, depression, or anxiety were increasing even before the COVID-19 pandemic. About 822,000 workers said they had been affected by work-related stress, depression, or anxiety in 2021. That's 2,480 workers in 100,000.

Making concerted efforts to reduce stress in the workplace can go a long way to preventing employees from regularly staying away from work.

Stress reduction can be done in the form of team-building activities to alleviate the stress of interpersonal relationships, or providing flexible work policies that are inclusive of the diverse nature and needs of all employees.

Google offers Zen-centric classes to help reduce stress, and other large companies have their own tools. The type of tool used would depend on your company's culture and needs.

Strategy 3: Build a team culture and "hat sharing" system

There is only so much a company can do to reduce valid absenteeism, and trying to force employees to the office when they are validly ill will only aggravate the presenteeism problem that the UK currently faces. It also endangers other employees if the ill employee is contagious.

From an employer's perspective, the problem with an absent employee is that work doesn't get done. This is particularly relevant for key personnel.

By engendering a strong team culture, and training employees to be able to perform each other's functions, a company defends itself against unfilled holes should one employee suddenly need to take urgent time off.

This can be done by:

  • Training employees on functions that belong to their colleagues
  • Improving the team culture so that employees want to help fellow employees when they are not there.

By building such a culture, team members can also be made to feel safer in their workplace because they know their jobs are secure as everyone works together to wear each other's "hats".

Strategy 4: Allow flexible hours and options

An employee who must start work at precisely 9:00 AM every day has no leeway if they suddenly happen to need to, say, take their kid to emergency care one morning.

Offering employees flexible working hours, or perhaps even reduced working hours "so long as the work gets done", will let employees still come to the office even on days where they won't manage to make it precisely at a certain hour. Instead of losing an entire day, an employee can work late, or simply "get the work done" using such a system.

HR: Managing shifts in the face of absenteeism

When employees are absent, it's important to log that absence so as to provide the correct Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). In certain organisations such as retail and sales, managers also need to know what sales reps are on the floor or if any need to be replaced.

Using the online Shiftbase Human Resources Management tool, it is possible to log absences and vacation days. Employees can also request an absence using the tool, making it easy for HR to know if anyone won't be covering key duties on a specific day.

To learn more about how Shiftbase can help your company more effectively manage absenteeism, contact us for a free demo.