Sickness and absence reporting - are your HR policies clear?

28 January 2013

The alarm goes off, it’s dark outside and your bed is so warm – let’s be honest, who hasn’t had a moment when they have wondered ‘do I have to go into work today?’ Add to that the recent snow and travel disruptions, the short days, the post-Christmas blues and already broken New Year’s resolutions and it becomes clear why employee absenteeism is often high in January and February.

Now, I am not suggesting that most sickness absence is not genuine but this is a good time of year to check that you have an effective policy in place and that you are implementing it consistently. Employees should know what is expected of them and how they should report any absence. It may be a good time to send an email reminding employees how and to whom they should report absences from work. This will serve as a gentle reminder that their days off are being monitored.

Monitoring absence effectively also allows you to identify trends. Are some employees taking Mondays or Fridays off consistently? Do they take seven days or under off often so that they do not have to provide a fit note? If so, you may want to have an informal conversation with them inquiring as to their wellbeing and asking if they need any support. Employees who call in sick should be treated sympathetically and the possibility that there may be an underlying cause to their absence must be kept in mind. It may be that this particular employee requires a simple adjustment to be made for his or her particular circumstances.  This may be something as simple as a change to their start and finish times or allowing them to work from home a couple of days a month.

Most absence related problems can be dealt with without the need for formal warnings, meetings and procedure but must be approached sympathetically and carefully.

Wellness days, company sports teams, a company choir, yoga sessions, socials (spare a thought for those doing Dry January when arranging these) should not be underestimated. These can make employees feel included and part of a team, as well as giving them something to look forward to. It is a fact that a happy work force is a more motivated work force, leading to lower levels of absenteeism. It was interesting to see that nearly 90% of employers who took part in the survey conducted as part of the Fitness for work: the Government response to 'Health at work', the Government’s independent review of sickness absence, agreed that they had a responsibility to encourage employees to be physically and mentally active.

If, despite participating in some of the above ‘company wellness’ activities, the January blues are still getting to you, think of Ernest Hemingway who stood while working (sigh of gratitude that I have a nice office chair). According to Dr John Buckley of the University of Chester, however, standing up for three hours extra a day would burn off 8lb (3.6kg) of fat each year, so maybe that’s one way of tackling those extra Christmas pounds!

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We welcome views and opinions about the issues raised in this blog. Should you require specific advice in relation to personal circumstances, please use the form on the contact page.

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