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Absence Management Policy – 12 Steps to Success

According to the CIPD’s 2016 Absence Management Survey, the amount of days lost to sickness equals 7.5 days a year per employee on average.

The average cost of days off in the public sector amounts to an average of £835 a year. But the bad news is that in 2016 the private sector fall in this cost, to £522 represents a rise in ‘presenteeism’ where employees feel obliged to work through illness and other conditions. (More on this later.)

But as you know, these figures don’t tell the whole story. There are less tangible, ‘invisible’ costs such as extra workload stress on those covering for missing colleagues or even extra recruiting costs and temping expenses.

absence managment infographic

Click on the image to see the CIPD survey


Also telling is the impact of ‘secret carers’. Some workers are obliged to take time off to deal with caring responsibilities for family members with extra needs.

If employees are regularly calling in sick it can delay projects. Within teams, there is no consistency, leading to low productivity levels. Even those who rarely have sick days can suffer from low motivation and lower productivity if their colleagues are regularly absent.


Absence Management Policy

How to Manage Employee Absence and Sickness Effectively – 12 Steps to Success


1. Cultivate a top-down culture surrounding absence management policy

First of all, it’s vital to make sure there is senior management buy-in to the issues of absence management. There are many realities to deal with and company culture should reflect this. For example, fostering a non-judgmental environment of openness. For example, it should be OK to share if you are struggling with workload, mental health or stress.

Good workers are valuable. Retaining staff and lessening the impact their jobs have on their wider, personal lives is crucial. Trends indicate that couples are having children later in their lives. Thus, there will be an inevitable ‘sandwiching’ of responsibilities between their offspring and elderly relatives.

The facts are that a ‘four generation’ workforce is inevitable and a supportive management team will see fewer problems hidden behind recurrent stomach bugs and colds.

Woman in bed with hand covering her face


2. Produce and put clear written procedures and policies in place for reporting absence.

A good absence management policy will list actions and procedures. It should contain information such as who to phone, certification requirements, clarifications of contractual sick pay and statutory sick pay etc. The policy must be accessible and communicated to all employees.

There are complicated issues to work through. Check regulations around flexible working arrangements. There are both obligations and scope for facilitating flexible working to accommodate your team’s needs. Allow them to juggle their wider responsibilities in life, such as caring for family members or dealing with emergencies.

Be sure that whatever you decide is in line with legislation. Your specific operational needs should be clearly explained and visible. Employees should be aware of exactly what they are entitled to and how they can access the support that’s made available to them.


3. Define roles and accurately record and monitor absence with your HR System.

Who is responsible for recording the details of the absence, records and reports statistics? Is anyone responsible to enforces the absence management policy? Are there absence targets? Is someone flagging flaws in the system? Who provides training to line managers?

Complicated and dated spreadsheets or paper systems are time-consuming and inaccurate so be sure to use a fast-to-deploy and economical cloud-based HR System.

Be clear on the distinction between HR and departmental function on this subject. Train managers so that communication is consistent and clear across departments. Managers should be informed on how to handle absenteeism issues.


4. Set absence-level targets

These are not there to pressure staff but to encourage a healthy work-life balance. Targets will help to prevent presenteeism and keep absence management top-of-mind in the workforce.

Ensure these targets are kept realistic and improvements are being recognised. As well, a plan should be set in motion to deal with deviation from ‘acceptable’ levels and cope with the effects of undue absences.

Woman sick


5. Record absences promptly and communicate the data

Keep on top of issues to avoid investigating aged claims. It’s vital to make sure that staff understand the impact of BOTH absenteeism AND presenteeism. Get the info out fast and regularly to the manager too so that it can be acted upon.

Aim to record the number of days missed. HR absence management is easier with software to manage staff sickness. The software will enable you to identify patterns of absenteeism such as after public holidays and leave and particular days of the week. Perhaps identifying these trends will be helpful to plan how to deal with shortages.

Accurate absence management policy reporting gives a clear, factual picture of absence in your organisation. It is useful for making strategic decisions using this data.


6. Fit Notes

Of course, you may require sick notes but pay attention closely to Doctor’s order for returning to work. These statements of fitness for work may be issued by medical professionals after longer periods off. They may include recommendations for their recovery. Pay close attention to these and any recommendations that can aid faster recuperation.


7. Conduct return-to-work interviews after absences.

Investigate with care and empathy to become off and handle any contributing factors sensitively. The vast majority of absence is genuine. The style of return-to-work interviews should be supportive and assist employees, not acting with suspicion or hostility.

Ensure any subsequent equipment or access is provided in line with workplace regulations for employees returning with extra requirements. (E.g., in the U.K. there is the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 to consider.)

In cases of long-term absence (4 weeks+) be sure to keep in regular contact with your employees to check in on their well-being. If appropriate, it can be a good idea to meet with them to get a clear understanding of what and how long their recovery will take. As well as let them know why support might be best suited to their situation.

Couple of employees having a meeting


8. Prevention does not cure

Develop other initiatives in your absence management policy program. Encourage general good attendance in line with modern work-life balance and well-being programs, flexible working conditions rights and other enhanced working conditions.

Could you offer benefits such as health screening, healthy eating options in canteens, or subsidised recreation/gyms? If you’re a smaller operation this doesn’t have to be expensive. You can attain this through group lunchtime walking schemes or the provision of secure bike parking to encourage cycling to work and so on.

In addition, EAPs (Employee Assistance Programs) can aim to help reduce absence by offering support to employees. These programs’ goal is to help employees cope with issues in either their work or personal lives. Services such as counselling for stress management, depression, financial worries or colleague relationships can be found.


9. Discourage presenteeism

And remember, achieving 100 per cent attendance is not necessarily desirable if this results in people being at work when they shouldn’t be, often mostly due to job insecurity worries. They may end up spreading their condition to others or exacerbating the problem so that it leads to a longer period of absence.

Also, be aware that any absence targets and attendance incentives are not encouraging presenteeism. Presenteeism also causes tension between coworkers who fear picking up bugs or having their well-being, time off or attendance figures affected by sick colleagues coming to work ill and ‘contagious’.


10. Be aware of stress

According to the CIPD 2016 survey above, stress and mental health dominate the most common causes of long-term absence. Think of mental well-being in line with physical comfort. For example, unsuitable chairs would contribute to back pain and absence.

Similarly, unrealistic work overload or undue pressure would also result in employee disengagement,  unhappiness, absence or loss in addition to extra obligations and subsequent stress on colleagues plus the time lost and costs of recruiting replacements.

A well-being culture with a realistic outlook on workload, adequate training and employee development can ease insecurities about job security and foster a more productive environment and deprived output.

Tired employee with hands on his face


11. Support managers

Many of your most talented managers may have been promoted due to their expertise, but may not be the best natural people managers. Providing training on how they can be effective, constructive team leaders, skilled in how to avert conflict and plan processes and working methods that do not cause undue pressure will pay dividends in efficiency and productivity.

Therefore managers that are ‘ambassadors’ for the culture of awareness and openness about absence issues are integral to the system.


12. Mitigate costs with Income Protection

Many companies can only afford to fund absences for very short periods. Income protection can help you pay for long-term absences by paying a monthly salary and can sometimes include rehabilitation services as well. A good Income Protection policy will make significant savings against occupational sick pay and other expenses.



  • Absence management policy needs buy-in from the very top with a company-wide culture of absence prevention essential.
  • Don’t be afraid to have open, honest discussions to get to the bottom of issues and have realistic processes in place to move ahead with well-being and ultimately improved productivity in mind.
  • Absence management policy and procedure must be clear, available and regularly monitored and communicated. HR Software systems can provide this reporting function.
  • Managers should be trained adequately in team management and absence-related issues plus relevant support programmes put in place.
  • Costs of employee absence management can be mitigated with insurance.
Absence Management Policy – 12 Steps to Success was last modified: September 27th, 2023 by Adam Coleman

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