With the super-charged Australian flu virus hitting the UK, closely followed by a rapid incline in Norovirus cases, employers have been on high alert. When staff are off sick, the strain on others can be massive, so what measures can be taken to help manage absence in the workplace? Below, I have outlined several suggestions covering managing absence.

Recognising when someone is ill

We can all relate to that feeling of an unwell colleague coming into work and praying we don’t catch what they have! Unfortunately, sick workers often feel pressurised into soldiering on, either as a direct result of their work load or perceived pressures from their manager and team. However, managers must recognise that sick colleagues can lower staff morale and productivity levels, and risk everyone calling in sick the following day. Therefore, recognising and encouraging a sick employee to go home to recuperate is by far the best option and should be done swiftly to avoid an employee being absent for longer.

Monitoring absence

Whilst we would hope that the reason given for absence is always genuine, there may be times when an employee ‘pulls a sickie’; and this is difficult to manage effectively without the right absence management tools being in place. Where values of trust and respect are strongly upheld within an organisation, the prospect of closely monitoring absence may feel inappropriate but the reality is that it is a sensible and necessary tool within any organisation.

For example, by using an effective absence management system, managers can view absence at a glance, which is helpful when planning projects or making sure that staff are not off work at the same time. It can also provide a useful audit trail and a means of uploading key documentation i.e. doctor’s certifications. Furthermore, monitoring absence can flag up concerns where an individual may be taking a significant amount of time off, perhaps due to mental health issues caused by high stress levels. Having an awareness of such concerns early on can help managers to support their employees in the best way possible.

Using a system like Actus Performance Management Software you can manage absence and use the built in Bradford Factor tool to understand the extent of an individual’s sick leave too.

One to one’s are important

The consequences of staff taking sick leave can be frightening when there are pressing projects and looming deadlines to be met. The best way to alleviate these pressures would be for managers to hold regular one-to-one’s with their team members, so that they are fully up-to-date and can take appropriate actions should members of staff be off sick. For example, a manager may have gained insight during a one-to-one as to who else has worked closely on that project and that person could therefore be asked to step in. Using an effective Performance Management Software, these one-to-one’s can also be recorded in the system, a useful tool to refer back to should a key player in a project be off work sick.

Preventing illness in the workplace

It is inevitable that people will get sick at work and need to take time off. However, there are several factors that can leave employees more vulnerable. Findings by Health and Safety Executive show that 12.5 million working days were lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2016/17. Research by the CIPD found that three quarters of organisations report that minor illness (including colds, flu, stomach upsets, headaches and migraines) are the most common cause of short-term absence whilst stress and musculoskeletal injuries are more commonly responsible for long-term absence (four weeks or more). Preventative measures can easily be put into place to help avoid these concerns. For example, ensuring workplaces are well sanitised to avoid the spread of germs, that tools and equipment are appropriate and will not cause strain and that employees feel they are getting the support they need to carry out their jobs effectively. Furthermore, as discussed in an earlier blog on mental health, employers may wish to put healthy initiatives in place to alleviate any stress and improve health amongst their team.

In summary, sickness is unavoidable in the workplace yet employers can take measures to prevent and minimise the effects that illness can have on productivity and output. Using an effective absence management tool is essential for any employer to use, as CIPD states ‘effective absence management seeks to support the needs of employees while also providing clear and consistent guidance to avoid unauthorised absence or inappropriate use of sick pay schemes’.

For more information about absence management click here

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