How to deal with absenteeism in the workplace

It’s interesting that absenteeism in the workplace due to sickness has actually been on a downward trend for over two decades. Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that;

  • In 1995, 7.2 days were lost through sickness absence per worker in the UK
  • 2005 – this number fell to 5.7 days
  • In 2018 the figure was down to 4.4 days per worker
  • 2020 witnessed the lowest recorded level of 3.6 days

Does the data signify a healthier workforce or is it an indication that the pressure to attend work (pre-COVID) was greater? Who knows…While 3.6 may not seem a large number, it equates to over 118 million working days.

Absenteeism in the workplace

What is clearer cut is the impact of COVID on the working population. According to the ONS, since April 2020 the Corona virus has accounted for 14% of all occurrences of sickness absence.

As the furlough scheme has recently ended, the data for sickness absenteeism in 2021/22 may make for interesting reading. Add in the effects of long term COVID and the desire of many employees to continue to work from home and perhaps the long term trend might begin to reverse. Company managers may well have to think of ways to reduce absenteeism in the workplace.

How to deal with absenteeism

How to deal with absenteeism in the workplace

Of course, workers can be absent for a whole host of reasons aside from sickness and injury. Yes, coughs, colds and back pain are usually among the most popular reasons cited for absenteeism, but long term conditions such as diabetes and depression are commonplace. According to the ONS, men and women give pretty much the same reasons for being absent from work.

Four main reasons given for sickness absence in 2020

  1. Minor illnesses (e.g. coughs & colds) 26.1%
  2. Other conditions (includes diabetes, coronavirus & accidents) 17.1%
  3. Musculoskeletal problems (e.g. back and neck pain) 15.4%
  4. Mental health 11.6%

With the exception of coronavirus, the reasons for sickness have changed little over the past decade.

(Data from the Office for National Statistics)

Outlandish excuses for absenteeism

Alongside these more understandable reasons for a sick day there will always be some outlandish excuses. A cursory Google search returns a host of far-fetched reasons that staff have given for a sick day.

‘My partner handcuffed me to the bed and then left with the key.’ ‘I’ve got vertigo from the London Eye’ and ‘I couldn’t remember how to get to the office.’

Aside from having a locksmith on speed dial, knowing how to cope with heights and issuing maps to employees, what are the sensible steps that you can take to reduce absenteeism in your business?

6 Top tips to reduce absenteeism in the workplace

  1. It is important to have a robust Absence Management Policy in place which you can refer to if you have an employee with high absence. This will enable you to take the necessary action. How can you determine what high absence is if you don’t have trigger points? How can you address the situation if you don’t have a clear process? If you don’t have a policy and need help putting one together, please get in touch
  2. Return to work meetings are so important; not only do they safeguard the business in regard to making sure the employee is fit to return to work, but they also give the manager the opportunity to discuss the employee’s absence levels. By keeping detailed records of these meetings, you may notice certain patterns emerging. These meetings can act as a deterrent by demonstrating to employees that you are monitoring their absence and taking it seriously
  3. Accommodating and putting in place flexible working patterns and remote working has been shown to reduce absence levels.  Having a good work life balance is important for your teams’ health and wellbeing
  4. Making sure your team take annual leave and lunch breaks and don’t do unnecessary overtime will ensure that employees don’t feel overworked and stressed. Tired, stressed employees are likely to increase absenteeism in your business
  5. If an employee’s absence is high, then follow your Absence Management Policy and address the situation. In most cases, you will find that the employees’ absence levels dramatically improve and by managing the situation you are being fair and consistent to everyone in the business
  6. If you have an employee who has an underlying medical condition, then a referral to Occupational Health to understand what adjustments can be put in place can be really helpful. If the employee is protected under the Equality Act, then you have a responsibility to put adjustments in place to support them in the workplace.  These adjustments may contribute to an improvement in the employee’s absence level

If you need any help or support in dealing with absenteeism in the workplace, please get in touch for your free half an hour consultation.

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