All you need to know in detail
Spotting frequent, short-term absences and identifying any patterns to these can help you to address any problems that might be developing with individuals or your team. As a manager, it is your responsibility to review absence history and discuss any problems with your employees. Identifying potential problems early will enable you to put the right support in place to minimise future absences.
Know what you’re looking for
Short-term sickness is absence that lasts less than 28 calendar days. Everyone has short-term sickness absence during their working lives, often because of common illnesses such as colds and flu. However, frequent, ad hoc absence can, indicate an underlying issue.
It is important for you to be aware of the provisions under the Equalities Act 2010 when dealing with sickness absence.
When reviewing absence history, look for patterns to the absence, for example, a collection of Fridays or Mondays or days after a bank holiday. Also look for themes in the reasons given for absence and review any fit notes for recurring information.
Discuss what you find
Where a pattern is identified, speak to the individual about it to see if there is any underlying reason for the absences. Often, just having a conversation is enough to alert the employee to the need to address any underlying causes or behaviour. Discuss how they approach health and wellbeing and refer them to any initiatives the Board supports for health and wellbeing, for example, staff counselling, weight management, exercise classes or discounts for gyms via Active Staff pages.
- In some cases, however, you could have uncovered an underlying health or mental health problem, difficulties within the team or a problem with the working environment. Putting the right support in place early, e.g. referrals to Occupational Health or physiotherapy available (via HRConnect) can help to minimise any potential future absence.
If no underlying issue is evident, you should be clear with the employee that their attendance needs to improve, how this will be measured, and the consequences if it does not. You may need to refer to the Board’s Attendance Management policy on HR Connect.
Monitor the situation
Keep track of whether an absence pattern is improving or getting worse and look out for any unusual patterns of absence, e.g. If an employee is experiencing more absences, or more frequent absences than usual. Your observations could enable further discussions and identify emerging issues.
Be sensitive and supportive
Adapting your approach depending on what you find, and the employee’s reaction, should enable you to be sensitive where necessary and find the right mix of supportive and firmness. You need to approach such situations as a line manager and not a clinician. It is important to be mindful of the cost and effects of frequent absence on the workload and the team whilst remembering that there may be personal or sensitive circumstances affecting absence.
If you notice someone is becoming withdrawn and quiet, create a suitable confidential environment to tell them what you have noticed, ask them if they are OK and offer them the opportunity to discuss things.
Appropriate training can assist you with being able to identify changes in employee behaviour that might result in increased absences, and drawing the employee into discussing these. See our Management Development Programme for more details.
Know where to go for help
Familiarise yourself with the Board’s Work-Life Balance Policies for circumstances where other types of leave may be more appropriate eg. carer leave, parental leave etc.
Occupational health (OH) can also help with signposting to specialist services, e.g. for drug or alcohol dependency, domestic violence or depression.
Check out the range of support and advice available on the Board’s Staff Health pages and make employees aware of the Self Help support available on HRConnect.
The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) advisory handbook is a useful starting point for handling short-term absence.
Consider making reasonable adjustments. Usually employees will be able to return to their role and work environment. However, you may need to ask if any adjustments could be made to allow them to return to work and/or prevent further absences. The sooner you have this conversation, the more time you will have to arrange for the support, equipment or adjustments needed. Making adjustments could also mean your employee could return to work sooner.