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The importance of absence management to reduce burnout

21 October 2022 7 min read

burnout Kelly Swingler

The importance of absence management to reduce burnout

Guest blog by Kelly Swingler

I know, I know, you hear the term ‘absence management’ and you immediately think of sickness absence, trigger levels and back to work meetings, and surely by the time you reach that point, it’s already too late when it comes to reducing and preventing burnout for your people.

What is Burnout?

Burnout, isn’t just needing a holiday, it’s not just fatigue, it’s not just exhaustion and it’s more than stress.  Burnout is chronic stress, and we know that chronic stress can lead to mental health issues, cardiovascular issues, diabetes, strokes and auto-immune illnesses.

It is defined by the World Health Health Organisation (WHO) as:

“Burnout is a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterised by three dimensions:

  • feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
  • increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
  • reduced professional efficacy.

Burnout refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.”

Since this definition was written in 2019, we’ve come to understand more about the signs and symptoms of burnout, what causes it, who it impacts the most, and what we can do to prevent it. But with burnout numbers rising year on year, is enough really being done to prevent it?

By the time Burnout is reached, periods of sickness absence can be long and after your people have returned to work the recovery can take even longer.  That’s even if they come back to work.  Many people who experience burnout find themselves unable to return to work completely, deciding to either take a longer break and work out what they want next, seek employment elsewhere, or start their own companies so that they can create greater balance and allow for longer periods of rest each week.

We want to stop it getting to this point, and so we need to start managing absence effectively.

Take a break

Long periods of work without a break not only begin to reduce work performance and work outputs, but they increase the chances of fatigue, exhaustion and stress, which can lead to burnout.  It’s important that all of your people take adequate breaks throughout the day, have set work hours to allow for a life outside of work, and to allow them to switch off in plenty of time to get a good night sleep.

In addition to regular daily breaks, regular vacation time should also be taken throughout the year, and this you can easily monitor and manage.

It’s pointless though encouraging people to take breaks throughout the day if they are constantly being interrupted whilst on their break.  And it’s pointless encouraging your people to take days off, have set working hours and take vacations, if you are always interrupting them with calls, texts and emails and the empty apologies along the lines of “I’m sorry to bother you, I know you’re on a day off/vacation, but …” If you’re doing this, you’re not sorry, you’re not allowing your people the breaks they really need, and you are adding to the stress which could be contributing to burnout.

So let’s say that you’re promoting breaks and time away from work to reset and recharge.  You’re monitoring the vacation time to ensure that everyone is taking regular breaks, but burnout is still increasing, what now?

Absence Management

More often than not when it comes to absence management, we look at the data and speak to the people who are taking sickness absence, either short bursts, repeating patterns of absence, or long periods of absence. But are you ever speaking to those people who never take any sick leave or who never take their leave?

absence management

Burnout tends to impact your high performers the most.  That’s not to say that it can’t or won’t impact everyone in your organisation, it certainly can, but it’s likely that it’s your top performers, those who are always present, never taking any time off and continuing to push through that it will hit first, and when it hits them, it will hit hard.


Because it’s the top performers that worry most about being seen as failures.  It’s the top performers who may be doing their work and picking up the slack of everyone else in the team and it’s the top performers who know that if the work isn’t done, there will be consequences at the end, and they don’t want this.

They want to keep performing, they want to keep delivering, and they want to keep striving.  You probably see these people as the ones to keep giving more and more work and responsibility to, because you know they’ll always deliver.  And because they always have too much to do, they don’t have time to be ill, even when they really need a day or two in bed.  They don’t have time to take their vacation because there’s always a deadline looming, and they don’t have time to take their breaks throughout the day because they always have too much to do and they don’t want to let other people down.

You need to be monitoring the absence of everyone in your team, those who take it and those who don’t if you want to prevent burnout.

The role of organisational culture in burnout prevention

It’s also worth noting at this point, that the culture of your organisation plays a big part here, and in order for your absence management to be effective, your working practices also need to match.

If you are always expecting your people to do more with less, not valuing them, not recognising their efforts, not paying and rewarding them in the right way, not ensuring that you have enough people in the right roles doing the right work at the right time, not developing and supporting your people, not communicating effectively with your people and not leading effectively, then no matter how much time out your people take, burnout is quite probably on the horizon.

In order to reduce and ideally prevent burnout in your organisations, you need to:

  • Take a look at your culture
  • Allow and encourage your people to take breaks on a daily basis
  • Allow and encourage your people to take vacation regularly
  • Understand that burnout is chronic stress
  • And manage the absence of all of your people by speaking to them and providing all of the support they need

If you’re looking to better manage your absences and protect your team from burnout, an absence management system is the best place to start. With simplicity and adaptability at heart, edays is the perfect solution for any size of business, and it can be customised to your needs. Book a demo to learn more.

Free webinar: Can Absence Management Reduce Burnout with Kelly Swingler

reduce burnout webinar

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About Kelly Swingler

Kelly is a Coach, Speaker and Author passionate about preventing burnout and changing the world of work.

She has worked in the People and Leadership arena for over 20 years and is known to be a rebel who challenges the status quo and encourages leaders to think differently about how they support and lead their people.

Kelly’s latest book, Mind The Gap: A story of burnout, breakthrough and beyond showcases her experience of burnout in a down to earth style and is encouraging readers to create much needed changes in the way they live and lead.

Jenni author blog
October 21, 2022

Jenni Littlehales is a marketing professional and an experienced author with a background in a wide variety of industries. Her understanding of people, wellbeing and associated challenges give a unique perspective in the evolving landscape of HR and technology.