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While most businesses strive to achieve a 2% sickness absence rate, such a figure still represents an annual loss of hundreds of thousands of pounds in lost revenue for UK businesses. 

In fact, our recent sickness absence survey reveals an average five sick days lost per employee. Two fifths of businesses also reported an increase in long-term sickness absence. So what are smart businesses doing to keep this cost to a minimum and tackle sickness absence effectively?

Make Business’s HR consultants have decades of experience in supporting clients to measure and tackle the root causes of absenteeism. Here are their recommendations based on working with companies of all sizes across the UK who have successfully reduced annual time lost to sickness absence. 

Understanding the problem through data

The best solutions come from the best data. Unfortunately, many companies don’t have a consistent way of tracking sickness absence across sites and job roles. This can be due to lack of direction at corporate level, poor implementation at the site/line manager level – or a needlessly complex reporting system. 

Make Business recommends Bradford Factor Scores as a baseline for understanding sickness absence and putting in place data-gathering schemes. For example, one company found its most common response in sickness absence reporting was ‘Other’. We worked with them to develop an effective way of gathering specific details on reasons for absence and more effective return-to-work forms and interviews.

Make Business works with HR departments to: 
Review all recorded sickness absence.
Quantify hours lost and associated costs.
Define absences by frequency, age, division, time of year, job role, site, shift, time with organisation etc. to identify patterns and problem areas.
Identify root causes of absence, from processes and procedures to cultural issues.
Coach and develop line managers to understand the impact absence has across the business.
Implement an employee wellbeing audit.

Think capability, not discipline
Many organisations cover sickness absence in their disciplinary policy. Make Business recommends developing a ‘Capability Policy’ to better handle this issue. The Capability Policy should cover all areas of absence and reflect current employment legislation. We also recommend a separate policy for long-term absence.  
The Long-Term Absence Policy should set out how managers should handle ongoing sickness absence issues, such as what should trigger the first written caution (e.g. 10 working days, or three or more absences over 12 months). What should signal a final written caution and what should constitute dismissal. 

Good Practice
Set up an Absence Management Review Group that reviews sickness absences on a monthly basis. This is good practice and doesn’t involve trade union representatives. 

Train the manager
Even when the best sickness absence policies are in place, if managers aren’t properly trained or engaged with their importance, they will fail. We advocate various related courses for managers of divisions or sites with high sickness absence rates, such as Managing Absence and Essential Management Skills. 

Make Business can also help your HR departments to lead in-house training for the HR team and managers, or even individual coaching and mentoring to assist individuals. This bespoke training could introduce specific KPIs and targets for managers to reduce absence. Linking these targets with performance management programmes and appraisals is key.   


Wellbeing & engagement at work

No sickness absence reduction programme would be complete without tackling the common causes of high levels of sickness absence. An Occupational Health and Wellbeing programme should be developed based on the findings of the problem solving data. For example, if a certain demographic of workers make up the largest portion of sickness absences, the wellbeing programme could target the root causes: from flu vaccinations to stress management initiatives, to an employee engagement strategy.

Here when you need us
Sickness absence issues are often complex. Our team of barristers, solicitors and HR professionals provide all the advice and guidance you need to help you and your business thrive.

Call us on 0845 293 9850, or email [email protected] 
Find out more about how we can help
https://www.makeuk.org/Services/HR-and-Legal/advice-and-guidance-packages