Sickness is part of life for everyone and as such it is inevitably a part of the working life. Employers big or small have to deal with sickness absence and this is typically never easy or something that managers look forward to doing.
Whilst large businesses normally have established practices in place for managing sickness, SMEs are often dealing with sickness as and when it becomes a more significant issue and starts having a direct cost implication. A recent survey by payroll specialist Moorepay has revealed that UK SMEs are experiencing higher absence rates than normal and that 7 in 10 SMEs feel that high absence rates are impacting on their profitability.
No-one Wants to Deal With Sickness Absence
Managing sickness absence can seem daunting because firstly, we have all been sick and we know what an awful position that is to be in. Secondly, whilst we might be managers of people, starting the conversation about their health seems like something that is best left for doctors to do. What if they reveal something deeply personal and serious, how do you deal with that?
While these hesitations are valid, the key to managing sickness is in actually starting to have conversations about it. Numerous studies have consistently shown that back to work interviews (the chat that the manager has with the person after they return from being off sick) is the most effective method of reducing sickness absence levels.
Now, it does actually make sense if you think about it for a minute. When you were a kid and you really really did not want to go to school, occasionally a genius idea of telling your mum that you were not feeling well would occur (that was definitely never you – it’s the other readers of this blog!). But we all knew that if we wanted to say that we’re feeling unwell – we had to speak to mum. Now mum normally had a very good ability to assess whether we were actually well enough to go to school or whether it was a bad case of schoolitis. So, this need to speak to mum about it did put us off occasionally from trying to get out of school.
The same principle applies in the workplace when having to deal with sickness that perhaps is not yet serious enough to even get a ‘mum’s pass’ to not go.
There is no argument that genuine sickness will not be prevented just because of the conversation but it will be helpful for those ‘not that seriously sick’ occasions.
So What Should You Do?
Well if you don’t want to turn absence management into a process, then treat it as informally as you like but just make sure that you actually have a way of dealing with it. The principles are quite simple:
- Notice it – Never let a sickness absence go unnoticed. For this you will need to keep some kind of records whether in a spreadsheet, on a piece of paper or just on an email. However you do it, just make sure you have a record to know how much sickness absence your employees have. Without a record, you will not be able to assess whether anyone’s sickness absence is actually an issue and when/if it is becoming one.
- Talk about it – Each time your employee falls ill, ask them to call you. Do not accept texts or emails but ask that each employee speaks to their manager if they can’t come to work due to sickness. This simple requirement will help employees make more thorough assessments of their level of sickness.
- Talk about it again – When your employees return to work after sickness, always have a conversation with them about it. This conversation does not have to be long or very serious, but as a concerned employer you want to make sure that your employees are well enough to be back at work and to find out if there is anything that you need to do to support them. It also shows that sickness is treated seriously in your business.
We know that we do make it sound simple and that it often can be more complicated especially once we start dealing with any potential disabilities. Our consultants have ample experience supporting businesses manage sickness absence and coaching/training managers on having those back to work conversations.
So if this is something that you or your managers are really, really uncomfortable doing – perhaps give us a call on 0203 319 1649 and we can see how we can help you.
We can also just take the whole burden away from you and manage your sickness absence process for you through our HR Support Plans. Whichever way works better for your business, we can help you cut down on your sickness absence levels and costs.