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Absence Management Policy – A 12-Step Guide

Absence Management Policy – How to Manage Employee Absence and Sickness Effectively

(Click image below to read the Absence Management Policy feature as Infographic.)


  • Absence management policy needs buy-in from the very top with a company-wide culture on 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 wellbeing 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

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 about 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

Also telling is the impact of ‘secret carers’ where workers are obliged to take time off to deal with caring responsibilities for family members with extra needs or at the extremes of the age spectrum amongst their immediate family and relatives.

If employees are regularly calling in sick it can delay projects and mean there is no consistency within teams, 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.

Here are some procedures and pointers to consider to implement an absence management policy more effectively in your organisation.



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, where it’s OK to say if they’re struggling with workload or about mental health or stress or outside caring responsibilities.

Good workers are valuable so retaining staff and lessening the impact their jobs have on their wider, personal lives is crucial. Trends indicate that couples are having children later and later in their lives, so there will be 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.

2. Produce and put clear written procedures and policies in place for reporting absence.
Good absence management policy will list actions and procedures such as who to phone when by, 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 regulation around flexible working arrangements as there are both obligations and scope for facilitating flexible working to accommodate your team’s needs to juggle their wider responsibilities in life, such as caring for family members or dealing with last-minute situations or emergencies.

Be sure that whatever you decide in line with legislation and your specific operational needs is clearly explained and visible, so that employees are 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. Who records and reports statistics? Who enforces the absence management policy? Who sets the absence targets? Who will flag flaws in the system? Who provides training to line managers?


Be clear on the distinction between HR and departmental function on this subject and train managers so that communication is consistent and clear across departments and that these managers are informed on how to handle absenteeism issues.

4. Set absence level targets
These are not there to pressure staff, but to encourage healthy work-life balance, prevent presenteeism – and its knock-on effects to the later absence (see below) – and to keep absence management top-of-mind in the workforce.

Ensure these targets are kept realistic and that improvements should be recognised appropriately and that ‘trigger points’ are set to set in motion to deal with deviation from ‘acceptable ‘ levels and to cope with the effects of undue absences.

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 numbers of days missed, and numbers of days missed per employee, absences per team/department etc. HR absence management is easier with software to manage staff sickness, which gives a solution to identify patterns of absenteeism such as after public holidays, leave, particular days of the week and perhaps identify patterns or trends helpful to planners and decision-makers on how to deal with shortages from the seasonal effects of illness etc.

Accurate absence management policy reporting gives a clear, factual picture of absence in your organisation (don’t leave this to subjectivity) and be 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 and/or relating to lengthier convalescence periods and 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 of and handle any contributing factors sensitively. The vast majority of absence is genuine, so the style of return-to-work interviews should be supportive and to 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 wellbeing, where 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 and entail and why support might be best suited to their situation.

Colds Cause Absence and Lost Production

8. Prevention not cure
Develop other initiatives in your absence management policy program to encourage general good attendance in line with modern work-life balance and wellbeing programs, flexible working condition 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, with group lunchtime walking schemes or 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 to help them cope with issues in either their work or personal lives with services such as counselling for stress management, depression, financial worries or colleagues relationships.

Absence makes the war last longer

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 wellbeing, time off or attendance figures affected by sick colleagues coming to work ill and ‘contagious’.

Discourage presenteeism

10. Be aware of stress
According to the CIPD 2016 survey above, stress and mental health dominate the most common causes for long-term absence. Think of mental wellbeing 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 wellbeing 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.

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.

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Absence Management Policy – A 12-Step Guide was last modified: February 27th, 2022 by Adam Coleman

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