5 Common Mistakes When Managing Employee Absence

Managing employee absence can be a minefield, with many employers avoiding it where they can. In this blog post, we’re going to look at the common mistakes that are made when managing employee absence and give some tips on how to avoid them.

Published Categorised as HR Best Practice, Managing Disciplinaries, Managing People Tagged
5 Common Mistakes when Managing Employee Absence - LighterHR
5 Common Mistakes when Managing Employee Absence - LighterHR

Managing employee absence can be a minefield. Many employers avoid managing absence as they really aren’t sure what questions they can ask and what actions they can take. 

In this blog post, we’re going to look at the common mistakes that are made when managing employee absence. We’ll also give some tips on how to avoid them.

Managing employee absence can be challenging and, if errors are made, can make the situation worse rather than better. This could lead to an employment tribunal claim through unintended consequences of the best of intentions.

If ever in doubt, seek support from an HR professional (preferably us!).

Mistake 1: Not Managing Employee Absence!

This may seem a strange first mistake for a blog post about managing absence, but one of the most common mistakes we see is not having routine conversations about absence.

Oftentimes, we see managers who avoid managing absence. When the employee returns to work, the situation “has been resolved” so there’s no need to investigate further.

This can lead to a culture of absence in the workplace.

How to ensure you manage employee absence…

Instigating ‘return to work’ interviews for all periods of absence of over, say, two days is a good way of developing a culture where employees know that you will want to check in with them when they return from a period of absence. 

There are many reasons to do return to work interviews. 

  • A well-structured conversation will help you ensure that there is nothing going on in the workplace that is contributing to absence. If there is, you’ll know before the issues start to escalate. 
  • Similarly, if something is going on in someone’s personal life, a return to work interview will give them the opportunity to speak up about it. You can then take appropriate action to support the individual.

Mistake 2: Jumping to Conclusions

When someone starts to take additional time off, it can be very easy to start jumping to conclusions about what is going on. 

  • You may conclude that the individual has disengaged and is looking for a new role. 
  • You may conclude that they are taking advantage of your good nature and the company’s flexibility and generous sick pay. 
  • You may decide that something is going on in their personal life. 

Any of these conclusions could easily lead to you starting to behave differently towards the individual. This is likely to simply cause problems to escalate.

Seek Information Before Reaching Conclusions

When managing employee absence, make sure that you seek information from the individual before you make up your mind about the situation. 

A ‘return to work’ interview is the perfect way to do this. However, if you decide you don’t want to do these, do make sure you sit with any individual about whom you have concerns regarding attendance. You should ask them some open questions about how they are.  It is perfectly fine to reflect that you have noticed that they are taking more time off and you wanted to understand what is causing this.

Another element to consider here is involving external parties such as GPs or Occupational Health when you have concerns regarding attendance.  Seeking additional information from a professional can make you far more confident when managing absence. 

Mistake 3: Lack of Communication with the Absent Employee

This can be a particular challenge when an individual is off for an extended period.  When someone is off on long-term sick leave (think over two weeks), they are likely quite seriously unwell. The individual should be focusing on their recovery. 

However, an employee not hearing from their workplace when they are off for an extended period or only receiving workplace news second-hand via colleagues can be very stressful.

It’s important to ensure that people who are on long-term sick leave do not end up feeling isolated.  It’s also worth remembering that some long-term health conditions may class as a disability. For this reason, it’s very important to ensure that individuals do not suffer any detriment due to their absence.

Managing Communications with Employees…

If someone is off for an extended period, ask them what type and frequency of communication they would like (as soon as they are well enough to engage of course). 

  • Maybe confirm that you’ll check in with them via text on a weekly basis. 
  • Or confirm that you’ll do a welfare call with them once a month. 

Work with the individual to understand what would work for them. 

Mistake 4: Inconsistent Approach to Managing Employee Absence

Whatever your approach is to managing employee absence, it’s important that you are consistent. 

Many organisations have discretionary company sick pay schemes where management decides whether an individual receives their full salary or is put onto SSP. 

Paying one individual full pay for absence whilst immediately putting another onto SSP is likely to cause discontent in the workforce. It could also result in claims of discrimination.

See our separate post on the perils of using management discretion!

Get a Clear Policy for Absence Pay

The best approach is typically to have a policy that has a consistent approach to paying for absence.

There are, of course, many valid reasons where absence payments may differ. If you operate a discretionary sick pay scheme, you should have clear parameters in your policy for making decisions around pay.  (If you need help with creating effective HR policies, we can help with that!)

Mistake 5: Failing to Understand Health Conditions

There’s everyday absence, where people pick up coughs and colds or tummy bugs. Then there’s absence that relates to a chronic health condition.  The latter requires careful handling. Some chronic health conditions can be classed as a disability meaning that the employee will have some additional protections.

It is very important to understand any chronic health conditions that an employee has so that you can understand what impact they may have on attendance. 

When an individual has a health condition classified as a disability, you must make reasonable adjustments in the workplace. These reasonable adjustments should allow them to perform at the same level as someone without the disability. This does not mean that employers are expected to accept unlimited amounts of absence. However, there will be an expectation that some reasonable allowance is made for absence relating to a health condition.

Get Professional Help to Understand the Health Condition

If you are managing employee absence with an individual who has a health condition that could be classed as a disability, we strongly recommend that you seek professional guidance.  This can be a tricky area to navigate.

Want to Know More or Need Some Help?

Overall, managing employee absence can be made easier by taking a few simple steps:

  • Have a clearly defined absence policy that you follow consistently.
  • Have return to work interviews to allow you to gain insight into issues before they escalate.
  • Gather facts and, where necessary, involve external parties such as GPs or Occupational Health so that you can move forward with solid information.
  • Be cautious when managing absence that relates to a health condition and seek professional guidance before doing so.
  • Don’t ignore the problem.  Early action can stop problem absence escalating.

Managing employee absence can be tricky.

If you are dealing with an absence situation and would like some expert guidance, give us a call on 0203 146 8770 or contact us using the contact form.

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