Reducing sickness absence in the workplace – 10 tips

Reducing sickness absence in the workplace – 10 tips

Reducing sickness absence in the workplace is something that any employer would wish to do, but many do not know how. The tips below provide an overview and offer guidance on next steps.


1. Have a policy which is known and understood


It is common for employers to have policies in place relating to sickness absence, but it is often the case that these documents are not as useful as they could be.  For example, employees may not have seen the policy and therefore do not know what to expect or perhaps managers do not adopt the same approach when it comes to sickness absence.

Regardless of the size of an organisation, it is important that everyone is treated fairly and consistently. This is particularly important where action is taken by an organisation when particular levels of sickness absence have been reached. For more information on the use of trigger points read our blog How many sick days before a disciplinary? In addition to providing transparency, a well drafted policy will lay out next steps so that everyone involved in the process is aware of what will happen when.


2. Communicate with colleagues regularly


Having regular conversations with colleagues helps to identify when things are different from usual. Perhaps, it is clear that an employee has been doing more hours than usual but why is that? It could be pressure to meet demanding targets, difficulty in accomplishing particular tasks meaning that the tasks in question are taking longer than expected, or the employee needs to do a large amount of overtime to make ends meet? Knowing what the problem is means that steps can be taken to resolve it.

Similarly, if an employee’s behaviour changes why would that be? It may be due to the negative behaviour of colleagues such as bullying or harassment. In each of the scenarios above early intervention could prevent sickness absence from occurring because the cause of the issue is being addressed properly.

It is just as important to keep in regular contact with someone on sickness absence. For more information on how this should be done, read our blog  long term sick keeping in touch.

3. Be proactive


Employers often only intervene when an issue has occurred, such as an employee being absent from work, and it may be the case that the organisation does not do anything until the employee actually returns to work.

This reactive approach would be a mistake. As said above, early interventions could remove the need for sickness absence. Similarly, if done correctly, engaging with an employee on sickness absence could reduce the amount of time the employee is away from work and increase the likelihood of the employee feeling confident about returning.


4. Gain information in order to understand the causes of the absences


When an employee is absent from the workplace, or has recently returned, employers often do not make enquiries to find out why the absence has happened. This would be a missed opportunity. There are various ways in which these insights could be gained, such as conversations when the absence is reported or back to work meetings.

Understanding why absences have occurred enables employers to make informed decisions. For example, it may well be discriminatory to take into account sickness absences that relate to the employee’s disability, when considering whether to initiate disciplinary action. This basic example illustrates why it is important for employers to understand why absences have occurred and to be able to take steps to minimise them in future.


5. Promote positive behaviours


Every organisation has its own culture which informs the way in which things are done. Perhaps this means an expectation that emails are responded to at any time of the day, and that employees do not switch off from work. Employers may think that this mindset increases productivity, but it is likely to be counterproductive: ultimately causing increased sickness absence levels or burnout.

A more sustainable strategy would be for decision makers to implement measures which promote employee wellbeing. Such a focus should apply to all aspects of the organisation rather than being limited to a particular activity.


6. Address complaints or issues


Sickness absence may be due to the pressures of the workplace or due to the behaviour of colleagues. In either situation the employee could feel that the situation is not going to improve and therefore there is no alternative other than to be absent from work.

However, having robust procedures in place would mean that such issues are more likely to be dealt with properly. For example, lodging a grievance against the colleagues referred to above should reveal what happened and ultimately resolve the situation. Similarly, pressures (such as a heavy workload) may be addressed through support measures such as training.


7. Discuss absences and consider patterns


There are likely to be signs that all is not well, but an organisation does not see them until it is too late. As mentioned earlier, perhaps an employee is suddenly doing far more hours than usual or an employee who had never been off from work was now away from work due to sickness absence fairly frequently. It is important to be able to be aware of such changes and to discuss them in order to take steps to minimise absences in future.


8. Monitor the situation


The situation may change over time. Therefore, it is important to monitor events. For example, an occasional absence may not appear anything to be concerned about, but more frequent absences may indicate something more serious. It is important to record each absence, and discuss it with the employee, so that an employer has a full picture of the situation.


9. Establish benchmarking


It is difficult to establish whether changes are having an impact on sickness absence levels unless the organisation has some way of making a comparison, such as a previous period in time. Industries or sectors are also likely to have average sickness absence levels. Whatever method(s) are chosen, it is important for the exercise to be done regularly so that any information remains relevant and up to date.


10. Work towards ongoing improvement


Just as an organisation would strive to improve in areas such as revenue, profit or levels of output, working to reduce sickness absence levels should be regarded as equally important. It may not be possible to remove sickness absence altogether, but progress in this area should be reviewed, using information such as the benchmarking records referred to above, as an ongoing process rather than an isolated event.

Plotkin & Chandler works exclusively in the areas of HR and employment law and assists both employees and employers.

If you are an organisation, we have expertise in delivering HR consultancy and HR training in all aspects of effectively managing sickness absence, and implementing measures to bring about continuous improvement. In addition to our HR services, we support clients with Defending an Employment Tribunal Claim.

If you are an individual who would like advice on a matter concerning long term absence or you would like to discuss bringing an Employment Tribunal Claim, we would be pleased to hear from you.

Please contact us on 020 3923 8616 or via email on info@plotkinandchandler.com to discuss your needs and the ways in which we can help.




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