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Effective Absence Management in 2016

Monitoring staff absence within the workplace is often cited as the number one headache for HR professionals across the UK. With much confusion around the legal entitlement rights for different types of leave, unintentionally discriminating against certain groups or individual circumstances is frequently a very real fear for many.

XpertHR’s annual absence survey for 2016 has continued to show that of the number of sickness days per employee per year has been in consistent freefall since 2006, with the average standing at 6.3 days of absence per employee. Whether the continuation of this trend has its roots in the last recession, and any resulting job insecurities, or is simply indicative of improving absence management practices across the business world, countless studies have shown that employment is generally good for both physical and mental health.

Essentially, keeping people at work can help to maintain an employee’s health and well-being, as well as improving organisational effectiveness.

An open spot on an org chart is left by someone who has gone missing, either out on medical leave or on vacation or just late, or perhaps even fired, and in his or her place is a sign reading Absent

However, the question on the lips of many HR professionals is: how do we achieve this?

One of the best ways to effectively track and manage absence across your business is to implement a step-by-step plan to ensure all identifiable aspects are covered. Legal employment experts Marie Walsh, Director at Consilia Legal, and Ceri Widdett, Barrister at Exchange Chambers, suggest the following six steps to ensure you remain both compliant with current legislation, and able to judge individual absence situations fairly:


Consider your current absence policy, and how well received it is within your business:

  • Who is aware of it?
  • Is it regularly reviewed?
  • Is it up to date with current legislation?
  • Is it clear and comprehensive?


It is vital that all managers within your organisation are given sufficient absence management training, including:

  • Communication styles, and how best to communicate effectively
  • Placing an emphasis on their ‘duty of care’ towards all direct reports
  • Ensuring different types of absence legislation are understood and can be applied accordingly


Making sure you properly record all incidents of absence will help you to identify both trends and risks within your business. Keep in mind that there are some general absence patterns which may apply, including:

  • Younger workers tending to have more frequent, shorter periods of absence
  • Manual workers having higher overall absence levels than any other group
  • Office workers having the highest overall absence levels for stress-related illnesses
  • Unauthorised absences being more common amongst new employees


Communication is key to helping employees back to work, especially in instances of long-term sickness. Consider:

  • The type of communication or contact to use: e.g. over the phone, face to face, email etc.
  • Setting up prompts or triggers via your HR system to remind you to keep in regular contact
  • If speaking face-to-face, consider meeting at an employee’s home or on neutral ground


Remain aware that different processes and forms of action may be applicable depending on the type of absence. These can include:

  • Scheduling return to work interviews for all types of sickness absence
  • Consider using the services of an occupational health team for long-term absences
  • Think ahead to suitable adjustments that might need to be made to an employee’s working area when they return


Once an employee has returned from a period of absence, it is important to provide them with continuing support, including:

  • Remaining open minded and enthusiastic upon the employee’s return to work
  • Carrying out ongoing assessments/catch ups to ensure they are continuing to cope
  • Maintaining communication on any adjustments made, and reviewing at appropriate times 

Many employers believe they can drastically reduce costs by tackling absence, and by measuring and managing your business’s levels in this way, you will not only uncover the most common reasons for absence, but will also devise plans on how best to reduce it.

Purchasing modern, intuitive, cloud-based technology could go a long way towards achieving your absenteeism goals. Our HR and payroll software, for example, has long supported clients looking to improve on absences, empowering them to analyse patterns and manage employees individually, ensuring that staff retention and bottom line performance don’t just remain constant – they improve.

If you’re considering investing in flexible, configurable, cloud-based HR and payroll software, why not book a demo with us?

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