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Nigel Walpole 10 key steps to effective absence management

I was talking to one of our clients about the extensive work we’re currently doing in the field of ‘Mindfulness’, specifically around whether there is a place for it in the workplace, introducing it and our webinar.

She said to me that, as part of her wellbeing strategy, her line managers still needed help with absence management, which is one of the key focuses around mindfulness, given that an estimated 70 million working days lost to sickness absence due to mental illness in 2014

This struggle is understandable because it can be a difficult issue - there is always a dilemma. Managers don’t want to appear pushy or intrusive and they don’t want to pressurise or be seen to pressurise the absent individual to return to work too soon. However, there may be some scepticism about the absence.

Get this approach wrong and any initiatives around wellbeing and mindfulness can very easily be undermined and crumble away.

To help with these difficult situations, I have noted 10 key steps to effective absence management (I must stress though, that all this must be considered in the context of individual policies and procedures)

  1. Managers need to ‘know their staff’ and should be able to identify changes in behaviours. Absence records should be checked regularly for patterns and trends.

  2. Ensure easy access policies and guidance so that staff are aware of their responsibilities.

  3. Keep in touch with your staff during every sick absence. Follow guidance from HR. (Absence policies should include ‘keeping in touch guidance’).

    10 key steps to effective absence management
  4. Managers must record all sick absence details promptly and accurately, using correct forms, correct dates, reasons for absence, and considering should this have been special or discretionary leave instead?

  5. Discuss and plan any necessary ‘rehabilitation’ – managers must keep in touch with HR at all times.

  6. Confidentiality is critically important. All interviews should be held in private and health details should not be disclosed without consent of the individual to anyone not involved in the absence management process. Managers must be aware of the data protection act when storing or sending sensitive information.

  7. Make fair decisions based on fact and appropriateness to individual circumstances.

  8. Managers must seek advice from HR if there are any underlying medical conditions, and make reasonable adjustments for disability-related sickness.

  9. Managers and the employee should discuss and develop a return to work plan with HR following a long term absence, considering what support can be offered e.g. reduced hours on medical grounds, temporary change of working pattern.

  10. The return to work process needs to be managed:
  • Always conduct a return to work interview within 2 days of the return
  • If there is persistent absence then consider if sick interviews are appropriate with possible disciplinary action
  • Bring the member of staff up to date with any changes that have occurred during their absence period and agree the details of the return to work interview

Getting absence management right gives a really firm foundation on which to build employee wellbeing strategies.

The matter of keeping in contact though can be tricky. In my next blog, I’ll examine the ‘Dos and Don’ts’ for keeping in contact.

Interested in knowing more about how to improve absence management in your organisation? Get it touch with us today.

Nigel Walpole

Nigel Walpole, MD, Bray Leino Learning

In my series of blogs I’ll talk through my thoughts on some of the key issues facing managers in the workplace - lessons learnt, tips for success and general musings.

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