Six Strategies for Managing Sickness Absence

Published
28 Feb
2014
I was prompted to write this blog to give some advice on handling sickness absence. If left unchecked, sickness absence can really leak profits out of the business. A client recently sought advice about when it would be appropriate to seek an employee’s consent to obtain a medical assessment.  In their particular instance, the employee had had about five instances of absence over a six-month period. The employer was concerned about this trend, quite naturally; entirely appropriate to seek a medical opinion.
 
Larger companies will typically have access to the services of occupational health professionals. They will also have some clear ground rules setting out when a referral to occupational health would be made. Smaller companies are much less likely to use the services of OH (resource constraints); internal policies are commonly either non-existent, out-dated our loosely written.  
 
Smaller companies are far more likely to use the services of a GP to obtain health assessment information.  This does, however, have its limitation, especially since GPs have less time to find out in-depth information about the individual’s work environment. In managing sickness absence, you need to rely on intelligence from a number of sources and best practices approaches that will help maximize attendance at work.
 
Here are six strategies:
 
Have an up-to-date attendance policy. The policy must clearly explain how absences will be managed. It should, for example, make reference to the circumstances under which the employee’s consent would be sought to write to the GP or a medical assessment. 
 
Communicate your sickness absence policy to employees; ensure they are aware of what they need to do if they are unwell and also your intentions to monitor absence generally.
 
Keep in regular contact with employees who are on sick leave.  There are no hard and fast rules, but it is not unreasonable for contact to be made on day 2, 5 and thereafter weekly for absences of longer duration.  There’s no need to feel that you are ‘hassling’ the sick employee.  Most employees welcome appropriate communication. All communications must be handled sensitively.  The idea of not contacting an employee because they are ‘off-sick’ is a myth. 
 
Best not to shy away from ‘difficult conversations’.  Keeping communications open will have many positive effects such as minimizing the period of absence.
 
Put in place a ‘wellness recovery plan’.  Agreeing a ‘WRAP’ is really important for absences that are likely to extend beyond eight days. The WRAP allows the employer and employee to agree actions that will support recovery and a return to work. Shorter periods of absence should always be managed by a return to work interview.
 
Train managers. Don’t expect managers to have the confidence to manage absence if there’s no policy for them to follow; or there is a policy but they have had no training in how to put it into action.
 
Managing attendance is built on capturing sickness absence data, and actively intervening 
 
If you want to talk things through, we’ll be your shrink. Call us on 020 8150 9960.