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How to manage employee absenteeism

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Kerrie-Anne Chinn, Content & Editorial Manager
2017-10-25

Have you noticed an increase in employee absenteeism across your organisation? Worried about certain team members who are taking more sick days than usual?

While it’s inevitable that staff will need to take time off from work every now and then, it’s important that employers and managers stay on top of absenteeism – for the wellbeing of your employees, as well as your business.

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Absence from work due to sickness, injury, mental health, or caretaker duties should always be dealt with in a fair and compassionate way. However, unfortunately, some employee absences are based in less legitimate reasons – and this is where things can get tricky for managers and team leaders.

Let’s look at the various reasons behind employee absence, how it impacts a business, and what you can do to manage absenteeism across your organisation.

Reasons for Employee Absence

An employee could be away from the workplace for a number of possible reasons. As we said above, they could be dealing with illness or injury, taking a mental health day, going to a medical appointment, or looking after someone in their care. These are considered to be authorised absences, due to legitimate reasons.

On the other hand, they could be taking unauthorised absence: calling in sick to attend a job interview, work on their CV, hang out with friends, go to the beach, sleep off a hangover… you get the idea.

The thing is, there’s no real way to determine if a staff member is actually ill when they’re absent from work. As outlined in a recent article in Forbes, absenteeism is “an especially difficult problem to tackle, because there are both legitimate and poor excuses for missing work - and it can be challenging for employers to effectively monitor, control and reduce absenteeism.

Here's where things can become even more complicated for managers: are you able to recognise and respond when the reasons behind an employee’s absenteeism are work-related? If a team member is staying away from work due to bullying, harassment, burnout, stress or any other work-related reason, employers and managers need to know. Or if someone is avoiding going into work because of heavy workloads, stressful meetings, or disengagement from their job.

If this is the case, it's essential that you get to the bottom of the issue to address it. You don’t want employees using their sick leave for these reasons, and you don’t want the kind of organisational culture where people are feeling too stressed, disengaged or under-valued to come to work.

The Impact of Employee Absence on Your Business

As well as protecting the wellbeing of your staff members, you’ll be doing yourself a favour by managing employee absenteeism.

Many employers aren’t quite aware of how the total costs of absenteeism affect their business. Absenteeism costs companies billions of dollars each year in wages, extra management time, decreased productivity, and lower quality of goods/services.

In addition to these financial impacts, absenteeism can result in understaffing, increased safety risks (when under-trained staff fill in for others) and poor company morale.

As Forbes reminds us, “because missed work days have a profound financial effect on a company's bottom line, it is beneficial for most businesses to implement strategies to equitably monitor, reduce and respond to absenteeism.

So what strategies can you implement to effectively manage absenteeism?

The Importance of an Employee Absenteeism Policy

You need to start by developing and implementing a strong employee absenteeism policy.

All employers need to ensure that they have current and up-to-date policies and procedures in place around this issue. Particularly in larger organisations, where it can be more difficult to control absences and their associated costs.

An absenteeism policy helps to make things clearer when it comes to how absences are monitored, recorded and managed across the company. Your policy will help to inform employees of the exact process they should follow for any absence, including who, how and when to notify their employer

Your policy will also include information on the difference between authorised and unauthorised absence, making it clear that unauthorised absence is a disciplinary matter that may result in action. When employees know that all absences are being monitored, reviewed and documented, the number of unauthorised absences is likely to decline.

However, an absenteeism policy isn’t just for the benefit of employers – these policies also protect workers, as all managers are required to follow the guidelines provided by the organisation’s absence policy and deal with issues in a fair and consistent way.

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