How to manage excessive employee absences

It is important that organisations have clear policies and procedures that are consistently applied when managing employee absences.

Employees needing to take time off work is normal and most people will take unplanned leave at some stage of their career, such as sick or carers leave. However, there are times when an employee’s absence from work can be an issue, particularly if it becomes excessive or unusual. When managing employee issues, such as excessive absenteeism it is important to understand why an employee is having time away from the workplace. These reasons will not always be obvious and may come as a surprise for the employer.

What causes absenteeism?

Absence from work doesn’t just refer to taking excessive days of sick leave. It also covers taking extra-long breaks, patterns of absence e.g. taking every Friday off and tardiness with start and finishing times. There are a range of factors that lead to employees needing to take time off work, such as:

  • Poor physical health
  • Mental ill health
  • Carer responsibilities
  • Workplace issues such as bullying or harassment
  • Burnout from the role
  • Feeling unsupported in the workplace
  • Issues in their personal life, such as domestic abuse

Why manage absences from the workplace?

If an employee’s absence from the workplace is not effectively managed an array of issues can arise. This can include:

  • Reduced productivity of the organisation and team the employee is a part of
  • Negatively impacting the culture of the organisation
  • Unplanned absence is costly
  • Increased workplace stress across the organisation and for the individual

It is vital that absences from the workplace are managed consistently from the commencement of employment. Issues often arise when employee’s absenteeism hasn’t been managed in accordance with policies and procedures from the start, as expectations have been set and moving the goal posts can present as a challenge.

How to manage unplanned absences

When a pattern of excessive absences becomes evident it is important for the issue to be addressed in a timely manner to ensure the problem doesn’t start to snowball. See below some recommendations for managing problem absences in the workplace.

Clear guidelines

Employees need to be made aware of what the expectations are when they need to take time off work and what is acceptable. For example, if an employee is feeling unwell, are they authorised to work from home that day? Ensure that when employees are inducted to the organisation they are aware of how to take leave and they are familiar with policies around absence from work.

Have the evidence

When addressing workplace absenteeism it is important to have clear evidence and data that demonstrates the issue. By presenting the employee with data outlining their excessive absence it can make it difficult for them to provide a counter argument and it provides an avenue for quickly resolving the issue.

Have a conversation

As soon as an issue has been identified with regarding the employees absence from the workplace, a conversation needs to be had. Before you can address the situation and support the employee you need to have an understanding about why they are having excessive absences from the workplace.

Be proactive

When an employee advises that they are going to be absence from work, try to clarify how long they think they will be away for. This helps to manage workloads and establishes an expected day for their return. When they return to the workplace, check in with the employee directly, ask about their wellbeing, see if support can be provided and give them an update on what happened while they were away. This is a reaffirming practice that reiterates their value.

Be flexible

Flexibility in the workplace, such as introducing a hybrid working from home model helps to reduce unplanned absences. Consider arrangements that can allow the employee to manage their situation, while continuing to work. This could include altering their work hours, providing flexibility to attend appointments or changing workdays.

Provide support

Continue to support the employee while they are absent from work. Reach out to the and ask how they are and provide reassurance that they don’t need to worry about their workload. Explore if there are avenues for the organisation to provide support to the employee and be patient with their return to work.

If you are following these recommendations and you are still having issues with excessive absenteeism consider seeking professional advice and assistance. There may be a need to initiate other formal approaches to address the problem, such as active case management or develop an absence management plan.

Employees needing to take time off work is normal and most people will take unplanned leave at some stage of their career, such as sick or carers leave. However, there are times when an employee’s absence from work can be an issue, particularly if it becomes excessive or unusual. When managing employee issues, such as excessive absenteeism it is important to understand why an employee is having time away from the workplace. These reasons will not always be obvious and may come as a surprise for the employer.

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