21 February 2014

Employee Absence Can Be Reduced, Here's How


Barry Chignell

Barry Chignell

Barry Chignell worked in Ciphr's marketing team from 2012-2020.


Health and wellbeing


Employee absence, whether caused by sickness or pressures outside of the workplace, can cost employers a large amount of money if not properly managed. Lowering absence levels across a business not only leads to a reduction in money being lost by the business, but also a happier, productive and content workforce. Below are some important factors, not just to consider, but to make sure are implemented as part of your absence strategy.

Absence in 2013 was at an average of average of 7.6 days per employee and costs UK businesses £29 billion*. Dealing with absence effectively and efficiently, and differentiating genuine absence from employees taking advantage of the business is a challenge that every employer faces. By implementing certain processes, cultures and policies it’s entirely possible to positively affect your employee absence levels.

Clear and visible absence policy

Ensuring that you have a well written, practical absence policy is the first thing you should implement. This should be used to set out the processes that both employees and you, the employer, should follow in the event of absence, for varying reasons. Creating attendance and absence policies will help employee’s understand what standards are expected of them as well as assist managers when dealing with employees in a fair and consistent way.

The policy should be easily accessible to all employees, publishing the policy document to your company intranet is an effective way to ensure that all employees have access to it whenever it may be required. Enabling this level of visibility also reduces the chances of an problem employee using lack of accessibility as an excuse as to why they failed to follow procedure.
Asking employees to read and confirm that they have understood the policy also improves compliance within the business.

We enable employers to publish any number of documents to their employees through the use of our employee self service solution, Ciphr Net.

Management should be approachable

approachable-managementIf management aren’t approachable then employees won’t feel comfortable approaching them to discuss issues or requests which could potentially avoid unnecessary absence. In many cases steps can be taken to assist an employee and reduce the need for time away from the office.
Making efforts to understand and be empathetic to a situation or condition will help to put an employee at ease and encourage them to be open and honest about their requirements.

Building trust between employees and management is also beneficial where the Employer Brand is concerned.

Accurate monitoring

Being able to monitor, report on and forecast absence is a critical tool that every HR department should have at their disposal. Spotting absence trends is an effective way of alerting the business to a problem with certain employees or at a particular time of year. Implementing trigger systems such as the Bradford factor score can help to reduce absence as return to work interviews can be carried out where absence follows a pattern or increases past the trigger ‘score’.

Effectively and accurately monitoring absence will help a business to distinguish between those employees that may need further support regarding ongoing health problems and employees that may be taking advantage of a businesses sick pay scheme. Recording absence patterns and levels is key should discussions or disciplinary action be required, and evidence required.

Tracking absence in Ciphr is easy thanks to numerous absence reports, the in built Bradford Factor functionality and absence workflow in the employee self service solution Ciphr Net.

Wellness programs

employee-wellnessWellness programs can cover any number of conditions, from assistance with weight loss to help for employees to quit smoking. They can be an initiative as simple as joining colleagues for a run after work.
At Ciphr, among other programs, we play football once per week and we’ve started a casual badminton club, these activities help to keep people fit, encourage engagement and interaction between colleagues and provide a topic of conversation without making anyone feel pressured into taking part. All of these factors create a happy, healthy environment which helps to reduce absence due to the positive impact on fitness, stress and happiness within the workforce.

Some wellness program ideas include:

  • On-site fitness center or exercise room
  • Walking and/or running club (during lunch hour or breaks)
  • Bike rack on premises (so employees can ride to work or during lunch)
  • Mind/body classes (yoga, tai chi)
  • Team sports (volleyball, basketball, softball)
  • Host an exercise equipment swap


  • Laughter bulletin board where employees can post jokes and cartoons (in good taste)
  • Visiting massage therapist
  • Book discussion group
  • Stretch breaks
  • Group lunches or celebrations
  • After-hours activities


  • Back-injury prevention training
  • Ergonomic education

List from cigna.com

Employer flexibility

Gov.uk describes flexible working as “a way of working that suits an employee’s needs, eg being able to work certain hours or work from home.”. As you can see the emphasis is on accommodating employees needs in a busy world where individuals have many responsibilities. Anyone can request flexible working from their employer.

Flexible working can take many forms – part time, term time, job-shares, home-working, compressed hours and flexitime.

Understanding employee needs will help reduce absence, allowing flexi time and/or working from home will often provide the flexibility in order for employees to accommodate external responsibilities. Knowing that there’s a channel available within the business to discuss requirements will encourage honesty and openness from employees, reducing time taken as absence to deal with personal matters. Many are choosing jobs that offer a better work life balance, as described in a recent article the divide of working hours shows a growing number working, what is labelled as, ‘mini-jobs’. The differing workpatterns are:

  • 15.7m people are in ‘midi-jobs’ working 31-45 hours a week
  • 6m people are in ‘mini-jobs’ working 16-30 hours a week
  • 5.9m are in ‘maxi-jobs’ working more than 45 hours a week
  • 2.5m are in ‘micro-jobs’ working 15 hours or less a week

There are a large number of reasons why people need to work flexitime, below are some examples:

  • Flexibility to meet family needs, personal obligations, and life responsibilities conveniently.
  • Reduced consumption of employee commuting time and fuel costs.
  • Avoids traffic and the stresses of commuting during rush hours.
  • Increased feeling of personal control over schedule and work environment.
  • Reduces employee burnout due to overload.
  • Allows people to work when they accomplish most, feel freshest, and enjoy working. (eg. morning person vs. night person).
  • Depending on the flexible work schedule chosen, may decrease external childcare hours and costs.

With flexible work schedules, employers experience these benefits:

  • Increased employee morale, engagement, and commitment to the organization.
  • Reduced absenteeism and tardiness.
  • Increased ability to recruit outstanding employees.
  • Reduced turnover of valued staff.
  • Allows people to work when they accomplish most, feel freshest, and enjoy working. (e.g. morning person vs. night person).
  • Extended hours of operation for departments such as customer service.
  • Develops image as an employer of choice with family friendly flexible work schedules.

From humanresources.about.com


Incentivising  employees good absence records can cut absence, but this strategy must be thought through carefully. Offering cash incentives can, and often does, reduce absence rates among employees but can also encourage those that are genuinely sick to attend work when sick, in order to qualify for a cash reward. There is also the moral question of whether a business should have to reward employees for something that is expected of them as part of their standard contract terms.

Office environment

Credit: plushemisphere.com

Making sure that the office environment is conducive to happy, healthy employees is one of the easiest ways any business can positively affect the absence levels within the workforce. Temperature and decor both play a part in the physical and psychological wellbeing of employees. Plants in the office, standing desks, ergonomic chairs are all simple and effective ways to make an office more healthy and a nicer place to be.
Lighting is a less well known consideration when it comes to a healthy space – natural light increases human productivity and reduces fatigue and stress. Simply making sure blinds are opened each morning to allow natural light through or replacing the bulbs in your office for ones which mimic natural light will instantly affect those that work in that space.

* CIPD Absence management 2013 survey