Managing Sickness Absence in Your Business

Human Resources 11th July 2024

Healthy Team, Healthy Business: Helping You Manage Sickness Absence in Your Company

Sickness absence can be a worry for businesses of any size. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), sickness absence rates reached a record high in 2022, with companies losing an estimated 185.6 million working days due to illness or injury. This translates to a cost of billions of pounds to the UK economy each year, do you know the impact within your organisation?

It’s likely you are already aware of the benefits of supporting a healthy and happy workforce. Not only is it good for the individuals in your team, but the organisation as a whole will benefit from a reduction in the need to manage unplanned absences which can disrupt your operations and impact productivity. So, how can you strike a balance between supporting employee wellbeing and protecting your business interests?

HR Support and Policies for Sickness Absence

We understand the constant need to balance the responsibilities you have to protect both your employees and your business; in terms of managing sickness absence, your priorities will be:

Providing Clear HR Policies and Procedures

Having clear, well-communicated sickness absence policies and procedures is essential. Your policies should outline the process for reporting absence, the requirement for FIT notes (after 7 days), and your expectations for employee behaviour during sick leave. These should be communicated when you onboard new employees, and any changes to the policies need to be made available to all staff.

Good Communication

Open and honest communication is key. We suggest you encourage employees to talk to you if they’re struggling with their health. You’ll need to be understanding of individuals while also ensuring they follow company procedures. This kind of openness allows you to support your people while also maintaining expected behaviours.

Supporting a Return to Work

A smooth return-to-work process will help your employees feel valued and supported, particularly when they have been off for extended periods. In some cases, this might involve phased returns or adjustments to workload so it’s important that you provide the right support to manage this.

These policies will help your people feel supported and are one way to promote better health and wellbeing in your workplace; we’ll look at additional provisions you can offer later in the post.

What behaviour might suggest your people are abusing sickness absence?

You’re doing your best to support your employees, but we know that sometimes red flags pop up causing you to question someone’s absence. These might be:

  • Frequent short-term absences: Be particularly mindful of patterns, such as clusters of absences around weekends or holidays.
  • Lack of FIT notes: The absence of a doctor’s note when required can be a sign something’s not as it should be.
  • Posts on social media: If someone is calling in sick but posting pictures of themselves out and about this might raise questions.
  • Is it a team problem? Consider whether multiple people in one area are behaving similarly. This could indicate an underlying issue within the team dynamic that needs addressing.

What can you do to create a culture of wellbeing at work?

There are some proactive steps you can take to support your employee wellbeing, providing opportunities to improve health and happiness across the organisation.

Encourage a culture of wellbeing

This is about more than providing chocolate biscuits and dress-down Friday. Consider providing flexible working arrangements, healthy working hours, and access to occupational health support. The level of provision within your organisation is up to you, but if you need some support, we can help.

Train mental health first aiders

One way to improve the culture of your workplace is by providing mental health first aid training. Equipping staff with mental health awareness will create a more supportive environment for everyone.

Keep good records

Ensure everyone documents absences and follows up conversations honestly and transparently. This will help you identify patterns and ensure fair treatment for everyone.

Good communication – again

Yes, we mentioned this earlier, but we’re repeating it because this is incredibly important. By encouraging open communication across all levels of your company and training managers to have constructive conversations about potential attendance issues, you can ensure employees feel confident discussing any concerns impacting their work. When these conversations are routine and accepted, particularly difficult situations will be easier for your team to approach.

Review workloads and deadlines

With good communication, you’ll be able to consider support options that may minimise sickness absence. Sometimes, a heavy workload can lead to stress-related absences so recognise the signs in your team and consider adjustments if needed. We discussed some of these signs in our previous post here.

Consider potential neurodiversity

It’s important to recognise other possibilities that may impact attendance at work. For example, some employees may have undiagnosed conditions like ADHD that can impact performance at work and attendance. If someone is struggling with the work environment, there may be things you can do to help them thrive, we looked at this recently here.

Consider professional HR help

Don’t hesitate to seek professional HR guidance for complex situations, if you’re at all unsure of how to handle something, the right support will ensure you’re following best practices.

Managing sickness absence doesn’t have to be a headache. By developing a culture of wellbeing, clear communication, and fair policies, you can create a win-win situation for your employees and your business.

If you ever feel unsure, reach out to us here at Gravitas HR for Honest, Straightforward Advice on managing sickness absence in your business. We’re here to help!



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