Is absence fast becoming one of the key moments on your employee engagement journey?

By Steve Arnold | Absence | 4 min read

2020 has been a tricky year. It’s a year when we were asked to stay at home, a year when we’ve been asked to not see our loved ones and a year where we’ve had to cancel our plans. What we can’t deny is that for lots of us the boundary between work and home has become blurred and is unlikely to ever look the same again.

This means that now more than ever we need to respect, appreciate, and make the most of the time we are not at work, the time when we are absent. For so long the word absence has had negative connotations when it comes to the workplace but it’s time to understand that employee absence is good for your employees and good for your business.

Health Secretary, Matt Hancock wrote this week about how in Britain we “soldier on” and with 90% of UK workers feeling stressed most of the time we are pushing ourselves towards a dangerous situation. Presenteeism and burnout are real challenges that have the potential to derail a business and more importantly harm the most important people… your team!

Take a few seconds to think about some of the moments in our lives and that might cause us to be absent from work. Sickness, holidays, celebrations (weddings, births, honeymoons), maybe a new dog? It’s likely that these moments in any given year are some of the most important times to us.

These crucial moments are a potential friction point between employer and employee and have the potential to increase trust and employee engagement between employer and employee or the opposite and negatively impact your relationships and ultimately employee engagement.

Changing the mentality around employee absence

So, what can you do? Well, there are three changes you can make to support this, but before you do… Change the mentality around absence – the first and probably most important challenge you are likely to face is that there is an existing stigma around employees being absent. With over 80% of 24-35-year-olds saying they don’t take time off when ill this is almost certainly a challenge you face. Leaders need to promote a positive culture of rest and time away from work and they need to lead by example too.

Think about your employee’s experience of absence – how do you engage your staff in those moments that matter? Research shows that the two most important things you can do for employees at this stage are to support them financially and support them personally. Start to think about that journey your employee goes on from the moment they decide they need to be absent.

Break down annual leave entitlement to make it relevant – more and more businesses are starting to understand the benefits of doing this. Here at Edays, we use something called me-days which is essentially an additional pot of leave entitlement that staff use as time for themselves. Need a day at the spa, a day on the golf course, or maybe just a day wrapped up in your duvet watching the tv? Doing this shows you have considered employee wellbeing and the fact that annual leave can quickly get taken up by other commitments. This also ensures employees don’t eat into those precious days planned on the beach in August.

Know your absence data – we can’t even think about addressing presenteeism, burnout, or mental health challenges if we don’t know about them. Are levels increasing, decreasing, higher in certain locations or departments? At Edays, we have a quarterly absence intelligence reported to the board once a quarter which helps us identify patterns and trends. This year we have seen unprecedented levels of employee burnout and unprecedented levels of annual leave untaken, surprised? You shouldn’t be.

Absence is good

Employee absence impacts more areas of your organisation than you think. From productivity and turnover, through to culture and wellbeing. Whether it’s unplanned to recover from illness or a planned holiday to recharge the batteries, the absence is a good thing, and organisations need a radically better experience of employee absence.


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