How to deal with absenteeism in the workplace

Claire Vane
April 6, 2016

'I'm locked in the bathroom, my cat has died and I can't get to work' - really?

As employers, we’ve heard all the excuses and the best recourse we have for dealing with sickness absence is a ‘return to work interview’ and, as the absenteeism or the pattern of absence becomes apparent and accumulates, then it is possible for an employer to utilise the absence policy and procedure.

Absenteeism is undoubtedly costing employers an enormous amount of money and there is always a bottom 10% that is worth dealing with. On February 1st, now known as ‘National Sickie Day’, the day with the highest number of absences, an estimated 350,000 workers were absent from work in the UK.

So what can employers do about an absent workforce?

We cannot say to an employee that we do not believe what they are telling us, but we can say that their level/pattern of absence (if there is one) is unacceptable so as to run the business effectively. This unacceptability is the main thrust of using an absence procedure. I draw a distinction here between short-term absence and possible patterns of absence, and long-term sickness.

It is interesting to look at the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is in its fourth edition; in it we see a definition of malingering as ‘the intentional production of false or grossly exaggerated symptoms, motivated by external incentives such as avoiding military duty, avoiding work, obtaining financial compensation, evading criminal prosecution or obtaining drugs’. It is then worth considering whether you face an issue of malingering and it’s worth asking why this is occurring.

What are the practical solutions?

Most employees take time off sick very infrequently and it might be worth considering whether to bring in a bonus for 100% attendance. It is amazing how remuneration drives behaviour, including reward policies in relation to absenteeism. The definition of malingering can help you decide what exactly you are dealing with; signs and repetitive patterns of absence can be an indication of wider issues, for which employers have a duty of care.

It is easy to see when somebody is physically unwell but mental health is completely different and there is still a huge amount of ignorance and lack of understanding. It is a fine line we tread between using absence procedures and controlling absenteeism while providing a duty of care to those who find themselves with mental health issues.

What is clear is that absenteeism responds well to treatment i.e. return to work interviews, good written procedures, communicating with the employee, writing to a GP for a prognosis (with the employee’s permission), consideration of reasonable adjustments and general care and attention when someone is off sick, reaps rewards and has a very positive effect on the bottom line.

Other helpful actions include good consistent attendance records detailing the various categories of absence medical records, and a real understanding of whether the employee has actually followed a prescribed treatment plan and is taking responsibility for their own health and wellbeing.

If you would like to discuss absenteeism or other employment issues  further, please do get in touch with the team of experts at Integrated Resources.

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Claire Vane

Claire is the Managing Director and Founder of Integrated Resources. She is passionate about releasing potential in individuals and organisations.

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