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Bah, Humbug! – How to manage absence this Christmas

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As Christmas approaches, HR managers across all businesses can be forgiven for already feeling a little Scrooge like when it comes to the prospect of dealing with employee absence. The onset of winter brings with it a heightened tendency for absence, with employees on average taking twice as much unplanned leave in winter months when compared to the summer. This offers a particular challenge for HR teams in organisations, who often find their workloads increasing exponentially, with sickness absences and annual leave requests rising significantly in the run up to Christmas

For businesses, absence management is never more important than during the winter months. The festive season in particular, usually brings with it a heightened demand for products and services, which alongside the traditional upswing in leave requests, can make balancing the needs of the organisation a logistical nightmare for people teams.

One of the worst flu and cold seasons in living memory will also likely be cause for your HR teams to say “Bah Humbug!” as businesses face a potential threat of a much diminished workforce as they enter the festive period.

We’ve decided to explore the challenge that is absence management over the winter months and to help guide your people teams through this challenging time and to help them find a more efficient way to keep on top of managing and maintaining sickness absences and annual leave requests as the holidays roll around once again.

What is absence management?

Simply put, absence management is an employer’s approach to mitigating the impact of employee absenteeism and avoiding workplace disruption. This is traditionally achieved via policy. Short and long term management or programmes and procedures which allows employers oversight of absence patterns. The usual function of absence management is designed to achieve several goals:

  •       Reporting and tracking absences
  •       Identifying sickness absence patterns
  •       Communication of workplace policy
  •       Reducing instances of absence
  •       Mitigating the financial impact of absences

Why is absence management important for your business?

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.

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.

Annual leave is also a key benefit for all employees. The ability to step away from the workplace for a week or two and recharge your batteries is vitally important in order to ensure people can remain engaged and productive.

The pandemic has also brought the importance of employee wellbeing 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 struggling. Armed with this information, HR leaders are able to drive forward conversations with their people around their wellbeing and to offer support where appropriate.

We all enjoy taking time off at Christmas time and all employees should be encouraged to make the most of their annual leave allowance. Having proper oversight of absence profiles and allowances allows HR teams to engage with their people and make sure they are taking that all important time to recharge.

Absence management challenges

Lack of visibility: Older, more manual forms of recording absences and leave allowances can lead to a muddying of the waters and a lot of confusion both for employees and their HR teams. It is all too easy for more analogue, input processes to become lost in the shuffle, leading to a breakdown in communication. More and more businesses are looking at digital platforms for handling absence profiles as they provide an instantaneous, up to date overview of employee absence and any allowances remaining.

Issues around staffing and resourcing: Of course, work doesn’t stop for everybody when one colleague goes on holiday. Ineffective oversight of absences within an organisation can lead to some businesses finding themselves caught out and scrambling to find appropriate cover for the absent employee.

Financial impacts: As well as safeguarding the wellbeing of your employees, having oversight of employee absence can also help in greatly reducing the impact that sick leave can have on businesses financially. With sickness absence costing UK firms £77 billion annually, it’s clear that effective oversight of sick leave will be vital in mitigating costs that come from a disruption to the workforce.

Presenteeism: Ineffective communication around absences and employee expectations can have a knock on effect on employees. If absence is seen as a taboo within an organisation, this can lead to a culture of presenteeism where employees feel pressured to be at work more than necessary, never making use of their leave allowances in order to rest and reset themselves. An exhausted workforce will inevitably find themselves increasingly disengaged and less productive.

Absence management policy

Effective absence management policies are important in order to provide your employees with clarity surrounding their leave entitlements. Making full use of annual leave should not be vilified and employees should be actively encouraged to take holidays in order to refresh themselves and remain rested and productive.

Clear communication of policy is also crucially important in order set out expectations around sickness absences. No employee should feel forced to work when physically or mentally unwell but it is also vital that organisations are aware of the impact that prolonged periods of absence can have on their business.

Effective absence management policies should include:

A clear understanding of what an employee needs to do in the event that they can’t make it into work. How is an absence – unplanned or otherwise- communicated to their place of work. Where traditionally a text or a phone call may have sufficed, more and more organisations are leaning on time and attendance systems to provide them with the proper accuracy and visibility needed to log absences.

A clear understanding of how absences are logged and recorded. Again, time and attendance systems put the power in the hands of the employee, allowing them to have instant visibility of their leave allowances as well as offering them an easy to use platform to communicate instances of unplanned absence to their employer. These systems efficiently pull through the information to a centralised point In order to provide your HR teams with the oversight they need to drive discussion around absence.

Setting out the return to work journey for employees. What needs to be done from an employer’s side after a period of absence? Are there return to work forms or assessments which have to be made?

Pay whilst absent. Especially important during periods of prolonged absence is the ability to effectively communicate to an employee what your responsibilities are financially towards that individual and how extended leave might impact pay.

What steps can you take?

As we’ve touched upon briefly, the responsibility of absence management traditionally falls at the feet of business leaders and HR teams. The typical pitfalls around monitoring sickness absences normally come about as a result of systems and processes being seen as draconian and designed solely to punish or micro-manage employees. This means that valuable data is unavailable to people teams and prolonged sickness leads to organisations haemorrhaging money needlessly. At particularly busy periods such as the festive season, the ability to effectively manage absence within the workplace can be a make or break point for many businesses.

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.

Having an overview of sickness absence within your workplace allows you a greater level of appreciation of the contributing factors and the conditions that lead to people taking time off in your workplace. This information is invaluable in readjusting your workplace strategies as well as allowing you to develop and communicate policy around sick leave.

 So what are some steps you can take?

Set out clear expectations around absences. Let your people know that absences are an accepted and normal part of working life. Ensure you have the agility in your set up to account for everyday occurrences of absence, be they planned or otherwise.

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 begin 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.

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.


It’s understandable that we all want to take it a bit easier at Christmas time. However, it’s important to spare a thought for your HR teams, who are undoubtedly going to find themselves dealing with the dual challenges of heightened business demand and increased requests for time off and incidences of sick leave as the holidays roll around.

Balancing the needs of the business with the very human need to take time away from work is an everyday challenge for HR professionals and it is one that is only heightened during the holiday period. Businesses need to take steps to ensure that they have the policy and framework in place to help support their people teams in the run up to Christmas, with a clear defined absence management policy to help their employees understand when leave may be appropriate and to also keep incidences of absence at a minimum

At Mitrefinch, an Advanced company,, we believe in the power of technology to help empower your people to achieve more. Our Time and attendance solution is designed by experts in the industry to provide your organisation with the visibility and oversight you need to be able to identify key trends of absence and drive forward productivity.

If you’d like to find out more about how Mitrefinch, an Advanced company, can help you tackle absences within your organisation, get in touch with one of our friendly team members today.



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