All employees need time off work every now and then to recover from illness, but what happens if, for some individuals, it seems to be happening on an all too regular basis? This is known as absenteeism.
If you notice an employee is having unplanned absences, it is important to understand what is happening, the reasons for it and what you can do to support the individual or address any issues.
HR and people managers need to have an up-to-date record available and be able to see the reasons or trends behind an employee’s repeated absences and then they can work to find the most appropriate action or solution to take.
If an employee is calling in sick multiple times every few months, it can be difficult to know whether these unplanned absences from work are for genuine reasons. For people managers and HR, spotting this type of behaviour and managing it needs to be addressed promptly.
In this article, we explore what absenteeism is, what can cause it, how it can affect organisations, and what people managers can do in the workplace to help monitor it and follow proper procedures to manage it.
What is absenteeism?
The term absenteeism refers to when an employee takes frequent unplanned absences from work. These absences can become habitual with little genuine reason behind them.
Identifying absenteeism however, and not wrongfully accusing an employee of simply avoiding attending work when in fact they have reasonable circumstances for it, can be challenging and the matter should be approached with facts and information to hand and addressed with the person clearly and sensitively.
Causes of absenteeism
There are few reasons that might contribute to an employee developing absenteeism.
It may be that they are not engaged in their role because they don’t enjoy it, they lack the proper skills or resources to do their job well, they struggle to stay motivated or they feel unsupported or overwhelmed with their workload.
These factors may end up leading to stress and burnout or cause an employee to feel disengaged and undervalued in their job – all of which can lead to an increase in absences.
There may be other contributing factors – and we’ve outlined the top 5 causes here – such as depression and anxiety, bereavement, other mental health issues or personal commitments such as childcare that they are trying to manage during work hours.
According to the latest data from Health and Safety Executive (HSE), between 2021 and 2022, there were 1.8million people suffering from work-related ill-health, of which 51% (914,000) were suffering from mental ill-health.
Effects of absenteeism
Obviously, absenteeism will affect the individual’s ability to do their job and complete work on time, but it can also affect other people in their team or department who will have to routinely cover for them and make sure things stay on track.
Deadlines may be missed, work output may slow down, sales and revenue-generating activity may be lost and customers may be left unsatisfied.
Someone who is feeling disengaged with their work may manifest this dissatisfaction by taking absence, potentially while they are looking for another job or attending interviews.
How to reduce and prevent absenteeism
There are a number of ways that HR and people managers can help to reduce and prevent absenteeism.
Ensuring that your company has a clear absence management policy in place is a great start. This will set out how absence and leave in your organisation is managed – for example, if someone calls in sick, who should they inform, how and by when? How does your organisation wish to handle employees’ medical appointments?
Having a clear plan set out around questions like these and sharing it with all employees will ensure that proper practices are followed, avoiding unnecessary confusion or lack of action when someone calls in sick.
You may also want to consider your return-to-work policy following illness. If an employee is off sick for a prolonged period of time, you can arrange a call to check in with them to see how they are doing. When they return to work, it is good practice to arrange a meeting with them, their managers or team, to help the employee to get back on track with their work.
Details of these conversations should be recorded – including the date and time they occur, what has been discussed, and what the agreed next steps are and when these are expected to be completed by. Having records of check-ins with absent employees is an essential part of a good process – providing consistency and clarity for all parties.
Other considerations for managing absenteeism include:
- Track all absences and look for patterns – recording all absences, their duration and the reason for them is best practice. It is usual to monitor employee absences on a rolling 12-month basis, so you can look back and identify any patterns
- Set triggers – when recording absences, you can set trigger points which will lead to a new action. For example, it is typical for more formal interventions to be made after three occurrences of unplanned absence in a 12-month period, or more than 10 days absence in a 12-month period. Organisations may also choose to set up Bradford Factor scores with triggers for action. These formal interventions can be used to look at the records, discuss absence occurrences with the individual and determine what, if any, action can be taken moving forward
- Consider the employee benefits you offer – it is common for many organisations to offer some kind of mental health benefit. This may be ‘mental health days’ – additional annual leave that employees can use to take part in some self-care activities. Other benefits include offering a subscription to an app, such as Calm or Headspace. Recent research by MHFA England found that up to 33% of employees asked said they would like more support from their employers in accessing help for mental health – many organisations do offer an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), which connects employees to support resources, such as counselling, on a range of areas including health, finance and wellbeing
- Provide appropriate training to managers – having constructive and challenging conversations with an employee about their absenteeism is essential, especially if you suspect they might be struggling with a personal issue. Checking in with an employee, and discussing any difficult topics that arise, should be approached with care and you can empower your people managers by providing training to help them do so empathetically. You can also support people managers with guidance on when and how to refer to appropriate professionals, possibly outside of the organisation if needed.
How to reduce and manage absenteeism with edays
edays absence management solution lets you take complete control of absence and leave tracking in your business.
Manage and approve annual leave, monitor sickness leave, set trigger alerts to take actions, and use other features including time submission, time in attendance, TOIL, overtime and working locations, to provide complete visibility on who is on holiday, who is off sick, who is working from home, who hasn’t taken any holiday for a long time and so, so much more.
Easily report on all of this precious people data so you can gain insight into how your people are operating.
Sound good? Book a demo with us to see edays in action.