Tips for managing employee sickness and workplace absence

Would you consider giving your staff ‘duvet days’? Here are some tips for coping with flu season during the winter months when your staff are as sick as a dog 

We thought we had heard every excuse going for employee absence. But one worker we read about this week really took the biscuit. They couldn’t come to work because they put their uniform in the microwave to dry it and set it on fire!
Humour aside, sickness absence is a serious drain on company resources. The CIPD calculates that it costs £554 per employee per year. But it’s not just about the money. High absence rates put pressure on remaining staff, and can inevitably impact on the quality of your operation.
Obviously you can’t stop people from getting sick. And goodness knows you do not want people coming into work because they are braving it and fearful of the consequences. Or showing up coughing and spluttering their germs across you and the rest of the workforce. Although we can appreciate the work ethic of the brave, it probably costs you more in the long run.  Top tip then, make sure mucus troopers stay at home!
So how are employers trying to slash those rising sickness bills? Some try to prevent illegitimate absences with financial incentive. In the run up to Christmas, temporary workers for Argos have been offered an extra 80 pence per hour if they don’t call in sick in a single week (the following week they have the chance to earn the extra pay again). Not recommended!
Most companies would say that short unplanned absences are the most disruptive. This is best managed by monitoring individual attendance records and holding meaningful return to work interviews. So the employee who makes a habit of eating a dodgy curry on a Sunday night is soon sorted out.
Workplace stress is another root cause of absence. It can be tackled through mentoring, regular 121s, making sure job designs are appropriate etc. Stress brought on by factors outside the workplace may be beyond your control. But with an Employee Assistance Programme you can ensure workers have got somewhere to turn when those issues do arise.
Cases of genuine and long-term illnesses need a supportive management plan. With NHS waiting lists getting longer, the employee waiting for surgery or physio may need time off or work less productively because of pain.
You could think about providing your staff with the opportunity to take up a health benefit plan. They can then reclaim the cost of private treatments to counter the waiting lists. Naturally, with access to speedy medical care covered by an insurer, they’re in a better position to have treatment and return to work sooner.
The options available to smaller businesses are endless and really cost effective. We can help you choose the right one for your business.
Not all illnesses can be cured. Managing someone who is terminally ill or has a long term disability is hard emotionally for colleagues as well as managers. Knowing what to say and when can seem impossible at times. Again, this is where seasoned HR professionals from The HR Dept can help make the process less stressful.
On a lighter note, some companies are now giving staff two ‘duvet days’ a year to be taken when they choose. Not something we would adopt, but there you go!
For help, practical advice and support, get in touch with The HR Dept 

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Ian heads up the HR Dept Edinburgh & the Lothians team. The HR Dept specialises in helping SMEs with everything to with employment, through a local and personal service delivering practical and pragmatic advice and support. With nearly 30 years HR experience, Ian has a wealth of experience in helping businesses to ensure success through their people, be legally compliant and handle tricky people issues. As a business owner himself, Ian understands the challenges that come with running and growing a business. He is known for his ability to explain complex concepts simply and to make learning fun and enjoyable.

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