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5 tips for absence management best practice

30 June 2023 6 min read

absence management best practice

When it comes to managing staff absence, admin, accuracy and awareness can be three major pitfalls for organisations. In this blog, we’re looking at absence management best practice, the common stumbling blocks, and what HR, line managers and senior leaders can do to stay on top of absence and leave, and understand how it impacts their organisation.

3 pitfalls preventing good absence management


If your organisation is still using paper forms and spreadsheets to manage absence and leave, HR and line managers are dealing with an extra pile of admin that could easily be reduced with an automated absence tracking system in place instead. Paper holiday request forms get filled out incorrectly or get lost altogether, and long email chains become difficult to keep track of and can be overlooked. Spreadsheets have to updated manually when people book annual leave or are off sick. These are long winded processes that could be slashed, reducing the admin burden on people managers whilst also ensuring you are logging every instance of absence and leave accurately.

And, for large organisations where each department or location has its own way of logging absence and leave separately, all of that valuable people data isn’t being recorded in one centralised place – a potential nightmare when trying to assess how absence is affecting your company and identifying any issues within your teams.


Having to update spreadsheets and forms manually will inevitably lead to inaccuracies. The dates and length of any absence and leave occurrences can be recorded incorrectly, or forgotten entirely. This presents significant challenges when it comes to planning resources, ensuring the workloads of absent staff members are covered and avoiding clashes between employees in the same team all wanting to take holiday at the same time.


If you notice someone has taken several sickness absences due to mental health or stress for example, it’s important that their manager and HR are aware of what the employee is going through so that they can be supported and assisted in their return to work.

Without an awareness of what’s going on within your teams, employees may feel unable to share how they’re coping in their role and eventually, choose to leave for somewhere that does encourage open conversations about absence and leave.

5 tips for absence management best practice

Have policies in place for short and long-term sickness absences

Who should an employee inform if they’re too ill to attend work, how and when? How do you define long-term sickness absence? Does your organisation provide any additional sick pay on top of statutory sick pay and if so, for how long?

These questions, and many more, need to be addressed and answered in your absence policy. Ensuring that you have clear guidelines in place for what happens in the event that someone needs to take sick leave, and communicating these with everyone in your organisation, will provide a better employee experience for all and avoid any confusion and miscommunication.

Log every instance of absence, and the reason for it

Make sure you have an easy-to-use holiday booking system in place, where employees can view their annual leave allowance and request time off, and where managers can approve or deny requests based on the needs of their team and work schedules.

Secondly, every instance of sickness absence should be logged along with a reason for that absence. It’s important for managers to be aware whether a member of their team might need extra support, if, for example:


  • they’re recovering from an illness and need support returning to work
  • they’re dealing with long-term or recurring sickness
  • they’re experiencing mental health issues
  • they’re experiencing personal or work-related stress


Knowing the reasons why your employees are taking sickness absence will help people managers to check-in with their team regularly, and have open conversations in a supportive manner. By working alongside the HR team, steps can be put in place to ensure an individual is receiving the support and/or treatment they need following medical guidance, and where necessary, reasonable adjustments can be made to that individual’s work routine to enable them to continue working under optimum circumstances.

Ensure you have a return-to-work procedure

A return-to-work procedure is a necessary part of ensuring an employee’s smooth transition into the workplace following a sickness absence. Depending on the reason for their absence, a return-to-work interview or check-in with their manager and HR can give them the opportunity to update you on how they’re feeling about returning to work, and what, if any, medical advice they’ve been given in relation to work. It is also an opportunity to plan, with support from their manager, how they will catch up on work they have missed, and what they’re in a position to pick back up on.

A record of the interview and what was discussed should be securely stored for future reference – there may come a time where it needs to be referred back to, should the employee take further absences due to the same reason for example.

Set triggers to alert you to potential issues in your teams     

The UK’s average sickness rate in 2022 was 2.6%, but do you know what your organisation’s absence rate is, or how it varies from team to team?

Setting up triggers is a great way to monitor absence levels across your teams, and if criteria for your pre-set triggers are met – for example, an employee takes three sickness absences during a 12-month period – you can take proactive steps to check-in with that employee to see how they’re doing.

Without setting absence triggers like this, employees may be taking frequent absences without many people in the organisation being aware of it, especially in larger companies with lots of employees across different departments. Employees who are taking frequent absences could be doing so for a whole host of reasons (burnout, stress, family issues, recurring illness to name a few), so it’s important you have visibility over this and step in, possibly before that employee hands in their resignation.

Encourage time off when it’s needed

Encouraging time off work when it’s needed, whether that’s through sickness absence or annual leave, cannot be underestimated in its importance. If your organisation encourages people to take a break when they’re sick, without fear of repercussions, judgement or worry over their workload, you’ll help to foster a positive and supportive working environment. Helping to retain talent within your company, boost productivity and engage with your employees on a deeper level.


Find out how edays can help you manage absence and leave in one centralised system.

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Georgina at edays
June 30, 2023

Georgina Mackintosh is an accomplished copywriter and marketing professional with a background that spans several industries. Her writing focuses on HR topics such as employee wellbeing, engagement and experience - as well as absence management best practice, how-to guides and news from the HR sector.