Contact us on WhatsApp

Managing Employee Absence

employees Jun 15, 2021

Managing absence is one of the biggest staff issues that employers are faced with.  It can cause so much disruption to the business when a member of staff phones in sick. It’s therefore important to ensure it’s well managed and all employees are treated fairly.

Many cases of absence are genuine and as an employer you need to manage this process and see how you can support employees when they are ill and help them return to work.

There are some employees whose absence is not genuine, malingerers who are regularly off work sick. This can really affect the moral of those who are left to cover their workload. If managers fail to deal with absence issues staff left to cover the workload can see this as a weakness in the manager. It can make them demotivated and in some cases the employees with good attendance can leave.

Even if you don't have any absence issue at the moment you need to ensure you have a process in place for when the time comes. It’s too late once you have a problem.

How much is absence costing your business?

It’s not just the direct costs, sick pay, to consider when an employee is absent.  What about the indirect costs? The impact on your staff and customers, cost of temporary cover, providing additional training or lost business to name just a few.

This is why the importance of having your HR Foundations in place is crucial. 

So what are HR Foundations? 

They are made up of your:


  • Employment contract
  • HR policies
  • Employee handbook 



These documents make up the people systems that give you a solid base on which to build your business. They provide the rules and guidelines of how things are done in your company. They form part of your culture.

One of the policies you need is an absence policy which sets out what the business expects from employees when they are sick.

The policy needs to explain the absence reporting procedure, which is what an employee must do if they are sick and not able to attend work, who they must contact, how they should make contact and by what time. 

How they make contact may sound simple, but these days there are so many ways to communicate. Do they phone their manager; or a colleague, is a text acceptable, can they send a Facebook or Whatsapp message?  Can you see why these things need to be included in your policy?

I recommend including the reporting absence procedure in your employment contract and discussing this with all new employees on their first day as part of their induction.

Return to work interview

The first step to manage absence is by conducting a return to work interview with the employee concerned on their first day back at work. I recommend this even if the employee has only been off work for one day.


Managers need to be investigative and counselling in their approach during the return to work interview.  This will help to discover if there are any underlying health or work problems that an employee might have.

The purpose of the interview is to:

  • Enable the employee to explain the reason for their absence.
  • Ensure the employee is well enough to be back at work and see whether they need any further support. For example, in the case of a long term sick absence, or recovery from a serious or traumatic illness, some employees may benefit from coming back on different hours to help them readjust back into work.
  • Assess whether the reason given is genuine.
  • Complete a return to work interview form.
  • Emphasise the importance of good attendance and explain why absence is continually monitored.
  • Raise any concerns regarding an employee’s attendance record and decide if further action should be taken.

Many cases are genuine, but not all. By regularly monitoring all absence you will start to see a decline in sick days which will save the business money, improve the work environment and the company culture. It will also help to identify employees who are genuinely ill who may need additional support or adjustments made to their work.

Many managers say they don’t have time to carry out these interviews. This maybe the case but if you consistently follow this process it will have one of two results. The malingerers will - one- stop taking time off or two - they leave.  Either result is a good result.  

You see it maybe the manager does not have time to do these interviews now but once they are carried out consistently the absence levels will decrease. It’s a swings and roundabouts situation.  If they don’t do the interviews absence problems will continue. The reason they don’t have time to do the interview is because staff are off sick!

Do you have the right HR Foundations in place? Is your absence policy up to date? Do you have an absence policy? If you are serious about having a successful business and you want to grow then you need to get these right.

Think about this….you are going to build your dream house a place where the children can grow up, where you can create memories with your friends and family to last you a lifetime. Would you build it without any foundations?  No you wouldn’t. Not unless you’re completely mad, because you know what will happen. It will all come crashing around you. That’s what happens to a business when they are trying to grow but they don’t have their HR foundations laid, it tumbles.

Do you need help with your people management?

Whether you’ve got a specific HR query, you need your HR foundations in place, or you’re looking to build on those foundations and create a team that can function without you, we’d love to talk about how we can help you make it happen.

Give us a call on 01980 622167, or click below to book a call.

Book a call