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Desks littered with crumpled tissues, a cacophony of coughing across the office and the smell of vapour rub lingering in the air – yes, it’s officially cold and flu season. Although taking the odd sick day is all but unavoidable when you’re surrounded by ill colleagues all day, repeated absences or a noticeable pattern will certainly raise a few red flags with HR departments.
Workplace absences cost the UK economy a whopping £18 billion a year through lost productivity, with this figure expected to creep up to £21 billion by 2020 – so you might think that skipping the odd Monday at the office to sleep off the weekend’s excesses is no big deal, but it all adds up. On top of the dip in productivity, employees that repeatedly call in sick put a strain on other members of staff who have to pick up their workload, which can impact workplace morale.
So, how should you deal with ‘serial sickies’?
Before raising your suspicions, first double-check that they are justified. An Absence Management system is the key here, as all absenteeism is logged and displayed in one place, making it easy to spot patterns – are they frequently taking leave on Fridays and Mondays, or around their booked holidays? A good system will help you pick up on trends and allow you to take action.
Setting a watertight absenteeism policy that all employees must follow will raise awareness of the appropriate use of sick days as well as the consequences of abusing them. Make sure this includes reporting and recording procedures, as well as outlining how an employee should report their own absences – knowing they’d have to directly call their manager and explain why they won’t be showing up for work could certainly dissuade a few would-be skivers.
If absences are becoming a recurring problem for an employee, you will need to find out why in order to properly address the issue. It could transpire that they are suffering from a long-term health problem, in which case you have a duty of care to ensure that the appropriate steps are taken to accommodate it – for example, offering more flexible working hours. Perhaps workplace stress is taking its toll, in which case it might be time to look at the wider culture in the office to see what changes can be made. Or, just maybe, they don’t have a valid excuse and it’s time to consider taking formal action – but don’t just assume that’s the case until you have talked to the employee and explored all possible causes. You can’t legally dismiss an employee who is taking leave within their rights, but disciplinary action can be taken if there are grounds to believe that they are abusing the policy.
It can be a sensitive subject to broach so managers can often let frequent absences slide, but if it is putting a strain on your business’ resources then it needs to be dealt with – a clear policy and consistent application will go a long way to deterring frequent unjustified sicknesses.