There is an old saying that goes “look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves.”  Absence is the same.  If you manage the individual absentees fairly, reasonably but closely, then the overall absence total and associated cost will reduce.

Rule 1 is act early. Have a policy where the employee must ring in if at all possible when they are ill.  If they don’t, ring them.  This is not harassment as remember, you are paying them to be at work and if they are not, you have a right to know why.  If there is a genuine medical problem, you don’t have a right to know all the details but you do have a right to know they are unwell and how long it is likely to last.

Rule 2 is keep in touch. So many employers are frightened of sickness absence amongst their staff and leave them alone out of a perception that you might be harassing them by contacting them.  But before long, a week has turned into a month and you have probably paid your employee a couple of grand for not working in some business sectors.  Even if you don’t pay employees while they are off, you will still have paid a few hundred pounds in statutory sick pay.  And often, they are sat at home thinking that work has forgotten all about them and no-one cares.

Rule 3 is seek professional help if the absence proceeds beyond 4 weeks.  Obtaining a report from the employees GP or treating specialist may cost you up to £100 but is small change compared to the cost of the employee sitting at home, the temp you have hired to do their work or the increasingly grumpy colleagues trying to manage with an empty desk in the department.  Alternatively seek help from an Independent Occupational Health or Human Resources Adviser.  This might cost you a bit more but you will get more detailed advice on how to potentially return the employee to some form of employment even if they still have a medical condition.  Not all employees will be able to return quickly due to serious ill health but at least you will know where you stand with some confidence. A few hundred pounds will pale into insignificance compared to the increasing cost of absence, potential future recruitment of a new member of staff and the potential legal claim for failing to manage the situation appropriately.

Finally, Rule 4 is make sure you talk to all your employees when they return from sickness absence. This does not have to be a formal meeting; it can be a two minute chat by the coffee machine for someone returning from a couple of days off with a cold.  It lets the genuine ones know that you care and the occasionally less genuine absentee know that you are take absence seriously. If you want occupational health support, you can always give us a ring.