Free HR briefing paper: Absence management – the missing links



While there’s growing recognition across the private and public sectors of the huge costs associated with sickness absence, some of the basic steps for managing it are still poorly handled. Even as high-performing organisations develop comprehensive absence strategies – from long-term preventative measures to effective intervention procedures – many other organisations are prevented from following suit by rudimentary operational shortcomings.

This Briefing Paper argues that:

Much of the focus in absence management falls – rightly – on the need to develop an effective strategy, covering factors such as preventative well-being programmes, occupational health, prompt intervention policies, and consistent disciplinary procedures. Yet these initiatives are hard to execute without first establishing an operational framework, built around effective data and procedure management.

Given that absence costs even mid-sized organisations hundreds of thousands of pounds each year – and has far-reaching consequences for both individuals and their employers – the return on investment from tackling data and workflow problems through software or outsourced services will often be rapid.

Research consistently indicates that HR is hindered by poor data management – in a recent survey by Webster Buchanan Research, almost four out of five HR managers agreed that the difficulty of getting relevant data together undermines their reporting and analytical capability. Conventional approaches to gathering and managing absence data tend to be inefficient at best, haphazard at worst. As such, they hinder every aspect of the discipline, from managing the immediate operational disruption that absence creates, to long-term sickness interventions and trend analysis.

There is always a risk with procedures that rely on human interactions and manual processes – such as setting up return-to-work interviews or planning long-term absence interventions – that actions will be forgotten or overlooked. By automating as many of the workflows that manage these processes as possible, organisations can introduce greater consistency into their absence programmes.

Many leading organisations take a holistic approach to absence, tackling it in the context of other HR disciplines such as performance management and employee engagement. The associated software and services strategies, however, are best approached on a two-tier basis. Absence management is largely a self-contained discipline, and the associated data and process issues can be tackled as a standalone initiative. At the same time, however, organisations need to ensure that there is sufficient data and process integration with other HR systems to feed into all relevant people management disciplines.