8 November 2012

Top Tips For Dealing With Staff Absence


Barry Chignell

Barry Chignell

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


Employee engagement Health and wellbeing Leadership and management


Continuing the theme of Winter, and the challenges that this season can bring to an organisation, we have compiled a list of the ways in which a business can deal with staff absence.

Dealing with unacceptable absence levels

Although the national rate of absence has dropped, when compared with previous years, there is still a significant cost incurred by the employer, both in terms of money and productivity.  Dealing with unacceptable absence levels is a challenge that every business needs to meet.

What is an ‘unacceptable’ level of absence?  Well, this is really a judgement call based on a number of factors – including:

  • Previous sickness absence record of the individual (amount, patterns)
  • The absence reason
  • How much time is taken off for the absence

Record Absences

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Recording and having the ability to visualise absence trends, both across your workforce and for individuals, is key.  Ensuring that each absence is recorded in full, including the number of days, episodes and reason for the absence will enable you to review these statistics as and when required.  Should you require the historical absence data for an employee, then this will be available to you.  You will also have the ability to present absence statistics to colleagues and management when needed.

Recording absence data is also an invaluable source of truth when it comes to spotting trends within your workforce and, as a result, dealing with these through employee engagement.

Absence Policy

Producing and circulating an official absence policy should be a priority.  This will detail and clarify what is and isn’t acceptable, and the procedures involved for each absence scenario.  Making sure that employees are both aware and in agreement with the policy will ensure that all staff have a clear understanding of the company stance on absence.
An absence policy can be communicated to the workforce through the company intranet, this will ensure that all employees have access to the information, both initially, and when required in the future. The information contained within the policy should be clear and concise, if employees can remember the content then they will have this in mind when thinking of taking sickness leave.

Return to Work (RTW) Interviews

According to a study conducted by Employment Review, 2/3rd’s of employers believe that RTW interviews have reduced staff absence. Whether you decide to carry out an interview after every absence, no matter how long, or have a particular trigger point during an absence that warrants an interview, using this strategy will help to reduce absence.  A RTW interview should be used to discuss any potential issues that can be addressed by the employer, such as stress or depression, in confidence.

Guidelines for discussion during the RTW interview include:

  • The absence itself.
  • The cause of the absence.
  • Does the absence affect any of the employee’s colleagues?  If so, then these should also be discussed.
  • Are there any other contributing factors for the absence?
  • Listen to what the employee has to say.
  • If there are any oddities with the reason for absence (contradictions, etc), these will need to be discussed and explained.
  • Can any changes be implemented regarding the workplace, responsibilities or working hours?
  • Is the cause of the absence work-related?
  • Does the absence form part of a noticeable pattern?
  • If the reason for the absence is personal, be sensitive when responding to and dealing with the issue.

Manager Training

Line Managers should be responsible for managing their subordinates when it comes to absence.  This is all well and good, however, it is the employer’s responsibility to ensure that their managers have the training and tools required to do this effectively.  Managers should also be aware of the channels that they can communicate through in order to ask for support, if and when required.


A business needs to be seen to support employees and help them get back to work.  Occupational health schemes are an example of a benefit that companies invest in for their employees well-being.  An employee should feel that they can call the office on the day of their absence and have an open and honest discussion with their line manager as to the reason for their absence.  If this is not the case, then an employee may start to feel that they have to embellish their symptoms in order to warrant their time away from work.


Maintaining contact with an employee while they are absent is a good way to monitor their situation and provide support.  By no means should this be at a frequency whereby the employee feels pestered or harassed; agree on the initial call when the employee should contact you with a later update, or when the manager will call to check on progress.  It is normally the responsibility of line managers to keep in regular contact with absent staff. Managers should have a working relationship with their staff and, as such, be able to discuss and deal with any sensitive issues. The discussion should be focused on the reasons for absence and the employees expected return to work.  When speaking to the employee, areas that both the employee and the business can concentrate on to aid the return to work should also be discussed.

Unless it is unavoidable, the responsibility of making contact with the employee should remain that of the line manager.

Working Conditions

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Is there a particular reason that certain employees may take more time off through sickness than others?  Either during the RTW interview or whilst the employee is absent, make sure that their are no environmental issues that may be causing the increased absenteeism, such as workloads that could cause stress or even workplace bullying.  Upon their return, the employee should be given the chance to discuss any issues which they face in the office.

Be Realistic

Some employees are ill more often than others, this is a fact of life.  Making an assumption about an employee’s absence, and this being incorrect, will cause all sorts of issues and potentially disciplinary proceedings against those employees involved.  It may be the case that the employee has an on-going condition that they have not declared to their manager.  If this is the case, then care should taken in discussions that may result in the employee confiding in their manager.

Be Flexible

We are all getting busier in our personal lives.  Allowing employees the flexibility to effectively deal with personal commitments is important.  Using flexible working or shift patterns, where possible, can help to reduce absence.  Allowing staff to purchase additional leave is an effective way of managing absence.

To discuss how Ciphr can help to drive the rate of absence down within your organisation, give us a call on 01628 814000 or email us.