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5 ways to reduce & manage sickness absence in the workplace

4 December 2023 7 min read

manage sickness absence

Employees having to take occasional sickness absence from work is nothing new. But if an organisation’s sickness absence management processes are inaccurate, inadequate or lacking altogether, it could be fuelling poor productivity levels and contributing to higher absence rates.

In the UK alone, an estimated 185.6 million working days were lost in 2022 due to sickness or injury, resulting in an average absence rate of 2.6% – the highest since 2004.

Sickness absence is a cost to businesses in more ways than one. Not only is there the actual cost of having an employee not working for the day, but there are also the knock-on effect it can have on an organisation’s day-to-day functions.

It’s common practice for the absence management processes to fall under the responsibility of line managers, who have to take the time to record the sickness and shuffle resources around in order to ensure the absent employee’s most pressing tasks are covered.

For industries with minimum staffing levels, such as healthcare and manufacturing, the work cannot stop because an employee is off sick. Instead, temporary staff or working overtime may be required – often at a premium rate, adding yet another layer to the absence costs.

Combine this with poor sickness absence management, and the subsequent effects of staff feeling unsupported, burnt out or stressed could be even more costly to businesses in the long-run.

According to our data, the average mental health leave length is 16.3 days, and the likelihood of mental health absence reoccurring within 12 months is 24.4%. So having a handle on your sickness rate, and engaging with your employees about absence, is crucial.

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What can organisations do then, to improve their sickness absence management and work towards reducing absenteeism?

Understand your absence data to reduce sickness absence

If you want to minimise sickness absence, you need to understand your employees and the sort of things that might encourage them to call in sick.

If you can learn when and why your employees are most likely to call in sick, you might spot some opportunities to make some lasting improvements to your workplace and your company culture.

Logging employee sickness will give you a clear overview of your organisations’ absence data. You’ll be able to spot patterns, which could help you identify ways in which you can act to make staff sickness less likely.

For example, if you looked at your absence data and found that November was a bad month for staff sickness in your business, how would you react?

Maybe you could talk to key members of your team about staffing levels and workload, to ensure that nobody’s dealing with a bloated list of tasks to complete before the end of the year.

Or maybe you could introduce a flexible working policy so that your team could work from the comfort of their homes rather than commuting through worsening weather conditions. Knowing this data now also means that you can use to predict what could happen again next year – giving you more time to prepare and support your workforce.

The insights you gain from monitoring your absence data can directly inform your employee wellbeing program. So better sickness absence management, combined with a holistic approach to wellbeing in the workplace, could make a huge difference to your staff’s sickness levels.

Consider your workplace environment

Considering your workplace environment can help address sickness absence management

If senior management and HR put themselves in employees’ shoes, what’s it really like to work for your organisation?

How empowered are line managers to support their team members, have 1 to 1 conversations with them, and work flexibly?

If your organisation operates under a hybrid or remote working model, how effective is it proving to be? Are teams able to communicate easily with each other when working from home or different locations, and is their equipment adequate to allow them to complete their work? Do people managers have the authority and confidence to provide flexibility for their team, where appropriate?

If you do have a central office or work location, is it a comfortable, safe and positive place to be?

Considering these questions could help to understand what it’s like to really work for your organisation, and where improvements can be made – ultimately increasing productivity and employee wellbeing.

Review your sickness absence management policies

Reviewing sickness absence management policies

Sickness absence management starts with having a clear policy in place, that works for your organisation and is fair to employees.

For many organisations, there may be an absence policy floating around in the files somewhere but when it was last updated, and which employees have seen it, may be unclear.

It’s good practice to review your sickness absence policy (and all workplace policies) on a regular basis to make sure the guidelines within it are still relevant and practical for your organisation.

Review your processes for calling in sick – who should employees inform if they are unwell, how and by when? Who is responsible for logging sickness absences in the records? What happens in the case of long-term sickness absence? What sick pay are your employees entitled to, and what does your return-to-work process look like?

Reviewing all of this and updating details where necessary will offer a good opportunity to share the refreshed absence policy with all staff in your organisation, with guidance on where it will be stored for future reference.

Consider wellbeing initiatives

We’re all familiar with travel-to-work schemes and gym memberships, but how well are wellbeing initiatives like these serving employees? Are employees aware of these initiatives and are they being utilised? Employees not having sight or knowledge of such benefits might be more common than you think.

For a multi-faceted wellbeing tool that offers employees a range of benefits all-in-one, consider implementing an Employee Assistance Programme.

It will often encompass a range of services from mental and physical wellbeing, to legal and financial advice, so employees can pick and choose what they need and want to use. In fact, when it comes to mental health interventions, for every £1 employers spend, they get £5 back in reduced absence, presenteeism and staff turnover.

Offering additional leave also serves to promote wellbeing in the workplace. Companies might offer birthdays off, a handful of extra ‘mental health days’, volunteering days or a combination of all of the above. Separating these custom types of leave out from annual leave allowances can incentivise employees to make the best use of them – using them as special days for self-care, family time or giving something back to the community.

Empower people managers

Empowering people managers to address sickness absence management

Effective line management and good sickness absence management go hand in hand.

In most cases, it will be line managers who log sickness absences within their team, and support employees in their recovery and return to work.

So, ensuring that your people managers feel empowered to do this is key. Do they have the tools they need to monitor and log sickness absence, or is it an extra admin burden?

Are they empowered to have regular catch-ups with their team members, such as weekly or fortnightly one-to-one conversations?

If not, employees may be lacking the support they need in their work, causing disengagement and allowing signs of burnout to go unchecked.

Find out more about reducing burnout in the workplace

Find out more about reducing burnout in the workplace

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To learn more about how edays’ absence management software can help you manage and even reduce your absence rates, click here to book a personalised demo.


Georgina at edays
December 4, 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.