Employee absences, be they planned or otherwise, have the potential to cause multiple issues for organisations and their people teams. A lack of visibility of who is off over what period can lead to disruptions in scheduling, spiralling costs and working hours lost chasing anomalies.
Accelerated disruption and wider shifts in the working world have also brought the importance of employee well-being into stark relief for many organisations. External stresses coupled with the typical mental and physical fatigue associated with work have created greater potential for employee burnout.
Absence management will form a core element of organisational structure moving forward, offering businesses the all-important visibility of employee absence patterns they need in order to effectively identify where their people may be struggle. Armed with this information, HR leaders are able to drive forward conversations with their people around their wellbeing and to offer support where appropriate, ensuring that productivity and efficiency is maintained.
Effective absence management is an asset to businesses and will play a vital role in ensuring the viability of their business strategies moving forward. Having a clear understanding of absences within your organisation allows you to mitigate the financial impacts of workplace disruption and by monitoring sickness patterns, your HR teams are able to effectively engage with employees regarding sick leave and any difficulties they may be having, effectively demonstrating your company’s commitment to employee wellbeing.
What is absence management in HR?
Absence management describes the various policies and processes which provide HR teams with the oversight they need in order to identify problem areas around sickness absence and drive discussion with employees who may be struggling. Having a clear understanding of absence patterns in the workplace allows HR leaders to tackle any problems head on, understanding and identifying any issues employees may have before they spiral out of control, leading to disruptions of the workforce.
What causes absenteeism?
A variety of factors can contribute to absenteeism within the workplace. Most commonly we associate it with illness and sick leave- a factor which has hardly become less relevant over the past couple of years. Long term illnesses too are an ever-present struggle for many employees who find themselves struggling to balance their physical wellbeing needs with the demands of their work.
Interestingly however, with the increasing need for businesses to understand the causes of absenteeism within the workplace, more and more organisations are taking a deeper dive into the employee experience and how workplace conditions can directly create stressors which contribute to physical, mental, and emotional strain.
Increasingly, we’ve begun to see the impact that the demands of the workplace can have on employees with long hours coupling with external stresses to create high levels of mental strain and burnout leading to days off. A report by Mental Health UK suggests that 47% of the people surveyed felt they had experienced discrimination within the workplace as a result of mental illness, with 55% saying they felt they could not disclose information about their mental health to their colleagues.
Bullying can also sadly play a huge part in driving up numbers of absence, with a quarter of UK workers feeling that they had been excluded or faced harassment in some form within the workplace. Organisations which encourage these types of cultures or allow bullying and harassment to continue, can find themselves facing high levels of burnout or turnover amongst their people.
One of the factors which has become particularly dominant in recent years is how personal or domestic issues can impact people. Traditionally there has been a much clearer divide between work and home life with the expectation of personal issues being left at the door. While this was always easier said than done, with the pandemic era having precipitated a wider shift to hybrid working models, that divide simply isn’t there for many people. This means that domestic matters such as child care, household sickness, financial trouble and a whole host of factors are interplaying with day to day working life, leading to heightened levels of stress and demand for time off.
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) have found that companies with the greatest success in introducing absence management strategies are those in which business leaders and HR professionals act as role models and actively champion initiatives around health and wellbeing. In short, this means that absence management should be folded into wider discussions around employee wellbeing and used as a tool to ensure employees remain happy, engaged and comfortable with work, rather than being foremost, a system seeking to punish people.
Why is absence management important?
Having a clear understanding of absences within your organisation allows you to mitigate the financial impacts of workplace disruption and by monitoring sickness patterns, your HR teams are able to effectively engage with employees regarding sick leave and any difficulties they may be having, effectively demonstrating your company’s commitment to employee wellbeing. Effectively managing and heading off preventable absences also ensure that your business remains productive and efficient.
Key strategies to reduce absenteeism.
Increased flexibility- Set out clear expectations around workplace responsibilities, but also allow your people a degree of flexibility in setting their own work schedule. By removing the rigidity from the working week, you communicate trust in your employees and also allow them the ability to remain agile to the demands of domestic life and other external factors which they have little control over.
Lead by example- Research by The Economist finds that employees tend to mimic the behaviour of the hierarchy, with exec level employees being particularly influential when determining and promoting company culture. If employees see higher ups within their organisation regularly replying to emails outside of office hours, it naturally sets an expectation for them to do the same. This, combined with the lack of a physical divide between office and home life can make it extremely difficult for people to disengage with work outside of their scheduled hours. It is important to set clear expectations around out of office hours and to ensure that your people are switching off at the end of the working day.
Reduce the stigma- The continued stigma around mental health in the workplace presents a barrier for leaders and HR professionals when trying to develop appropriate support strategies for employees.HSE have outlined management standards for good practice in supporting the mental wellbeing of employees. Within these standards, the emphasis is placed upon managers acting as thought leaders and actively promoting a company culture that is open and frank around mental health discussions. It is important for business leaders to drive forward a supportive ethos and craft an environment where employees feel able to approach management if they are struggling.
Recognising and rewarding- The flip side of absence management is looking at how you can recognise and reward your employees for consistent attendance. Whilst it is perceived as a baseline expectation for people to show up for work, it has to be considered how any number of external factors can combine to make this a particular challenge. Employees who don’t feel recognised or valued at work will hardly feel incentivised to not take days off whenever the opportunity arises. By embedding a strong culture of recognition and reward, you help make your people feel valued as well as creating a culture which promotes a team-based ethos.
How can software help?
Set out clear expectations around absence- Let your people know that absences are an accepted and normal part of working life- as long as it is communicated and recorded. Ensure you have the agility in your set up to account for everyday occurrences of absence, be they planned or otherwise. Your HR and time and attendance software should allow you to communicate with your employees at ease.
Be empathetic and empower your HR people to drive discussions with employees around the causes of absence- One of the key contributing factors to employee absence is stress. As organisations continue to reconcile themselves with a largely hybrid workforce, it is important that their HR systems and processes are robust enough to enable them to effectively engage with employees and head off potential pain points before they spiral into long term absence. Your attendance tracking software should provide you with the data points and the tools to drive discussion with employees around absenteeism.
Free your HR people from holiday admin- Comprehensive time and attendance solutions now give the power to the individual employee to have visibility of their own leave allowances and empower them to push through their own requests-saving your HR team time in dealing with robotic admin and giving more time to analyse the data your systems are actually giving you.
Time and attendance systems offer you the information you need in real time-This means never being caught out by absences and ensuring that you can gather together the staff and resources you need to guarantee productivity even when the most key employees are taking a break. An instant view of absence patterns ensures that you are able to stay proactive rather than reactive, spotting trends through visual reports rather than sifting through data manually.
It’s clear that time away from work is good for everybody. A happy and refreshed workforce is inevitably a more productive one and organisations need to ensure that their people are taking full advantage of leave allowances offered to them, in order to recharge their batteries.
As important as it is to remove the stigma around taking time off, businesses need to be aware of the need to remain agile and able to adapt to instances of absence.
We understand just how crucial it is to have a clear and accurate picture of absence within your organisation. We also know just how demanding the admin requirements of absence management can be, which is why we believe you should be able to lean on your systems and technology to alleviate these headaches.
We’ve our Time and Attendance solution gives organisations an unparalleled overview of their operational structure and the agility and flexibility they need to cover shifts and ensure a greater degree of business continuity, regardless of the disruption.
If you’d like to discover more about how our time and attendance system can help you stay on top of absences within your organisation, get in touch today.