No company is ever going to have a 100% optimised absence record. Employees staying away from work is an unavoidable part of business, but proper absence management prevents it becoming a serious and costly problem.
That’s why we’ve put together some of our favourite tips for absence management for you. Managing absence in this context means both preventing unexpected absence (like sickness) and encouraging planned absence (taking restful holidays).
We'll cover methods for preventatively lowering rates of absence by making workers happier and more comfortable in their jobs, as well as some tips on the day-to-day admin of keeping track of what’s going on.
After you’ve had a look at these, check out our guide to absence management where we go into more detail for some of these concepts.
Be prepared for different types of absence
It’s not just a case of the sniffles that’ll keep workers away from the office; there’s a whole host of things that can cause an absence.
The more you know, the better. If you know what to expect, you can be prepared for likely staffing shortfalls, adjust headcount and delegate tasks. You’ll also have the opportunity to note your policy on each of these types, so workers know what their rights are.
Promote unsick days
One of the best preventative measures you can take to reduce sickness absence, ‘unsick days’ are paid sick leave days for employees to take care of their health even when they aren’t suffering from particular problems.
This might include a visit to their GP for a check-up, a therapy appointment to talk out your worries, a spa appointment for ultimate relaxation, or a physiotherapy session for a deep tissue massage. They’re all about being healthy, both physically and mentally. And that’s the kind of thing that stops people needing time off later on.
Build a culture that encourages rest
This includes giving a proper holiday allowance, and encouraging folks to use it. That means management must set an example by doing the same.
Unlimited allowance rarely works, though, as great as it sounds - it makes it difficult to know when it’s appropriate to take leave.
Talk to your employees
Finding out why someone is absent is much better than just noting their leave and moving on. If you know what’s going on, you might be able to intervene. This includes return-to-work interviews, which should be caring chats rather than interrogations.
They’re not always appropriate for single day absences, so you might want to just do them for absences of 3 days or more.
Ask your employees - is there anything we can do to help? Are there any adjustments we can make in the work environment to make you more comfortable? This could include desk adjustments for those with back problems, different light arrangements for those with migraines, or quieter spaces for those getting stressed.
Despite the suspicions of paranoid middle managers, most employees don’t want to call in sick all the time, but they do want a comfortable place to work. Maybe you can help.
Ditch the Bradford Factor
If you’re using this antiquated method for tracking and punishing sick leave, it’s time to phase it out. It’s a mathematical formula that includes no compassion or understanding whatsoever for the reality of people’s lives.
While it disincentivises workers from taking multiple absences, it also reduces them to a number - not great for building healthy, cooperative company cultures.
We’ve noted our objections by providing some useful alternatives to the Bradford factor, which are much better suited to the modern world of work.
Offer flexible working options
This is a must these days, as the traditional 9-5 just isn’t that well-suited to many of our lives. Later shifts for night owls, or earlier ones for parents picking up kids from school in the early afternoon, are getting more common. There’s also the option of different shift lengths to work around commitments - particularly for students who attend lectures for half their days. Plus, of course, remote working: even if it’s just a day per week of working from home, this can be a massive upgrade in someone’s quality of life.
These things can help folks avoid a traffic-filled commute - one of the most stressful things you can have in a daily routine - and make things much less stressful all-round, leading to fewer unexpected absences.
Just be careful to take sickness seriously for flexible workers, even if they do stay home. Just because someone’s in the comfort of their own place, it doesn’t mean they’re fit to work. There are all kinds of medical conditions that can impact suitability to work.
Think a totally different environment might do the trick? How about a workation instead?
Get your policy written down
No matter how casual and funky you want your company to be, you can’t wing it when it comes to absence policy. A proper absence policy will define your rules around taking time off and act as a reference point for any disputes.
Ideally, you’d make it fun and interesting to read, without unnecessary jargon. It should also explain cultural attitudes to absence, like the fact people shouldn’t force themselves to work when they’re sick.
It’s not difficult to make a policy - it might take an hour or two, but will create a even playing field for everyone and save some massive headaches later on when conflicts arise and nobody has proof of anything. We’ve got templates you can use to make it even easier.
Build a comfortable work environment
This doesn’t so much mean beer fridges and gimmicks, but a work environment conducive to good work. That means plenty of plants to oxygenate the air, comfy seats and social areas, and quiet zones for introverts and those that need uninterrupted conversation.
Fun things like sweet treats and table football can be great distractions but aren’t a proper solution. If you’re serious about building a comfortable and productive office, consider bringing in lighting and environmental sound consultants to see where you’re going wrong.
Making things comfortable applies to your night workers, too - make sure they aren’t forgotten!
Hire the right people
It seems obvious, but getting the right people in the first place is critical. You won’t know someone’s medical history from a job interview, but making sure they’re a right fit culturally will mean they’re less likely to take unexpected absence.
Even if they’re the most qualified of your candidates, if their work-style and personality doesn’t fit that of your business, their discomfort will only grow and brew dissent and stress, leading to a higher probability of absence in future. If they’re in love with the job and their colleagues, chances are their absence record will look pretty healthy throughout the year.
Use the right tools
If you’re still doing it on paper - or even spreadsheets - it’s probably time to upgrade. The amount of faff needed to record absence manually is one we could all do without. Luckily we’ve got you covered - head over to our Absence Management Software page to see what we can do for you.