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Managing Absence from Work

Managing absence & improving overall performance

by Jane Middleton, The Middleton Partnership

The 2010 Absence Management survey conducted by the CIPD found that 82% of UK companies are
now recording their absence. The average level of employee absence is still quite low at 7.7 days
of absence per employee. Two-thirds of working time lost to absence is accounted for by short-term
absences of up to seven days.

Unsurprisingly the most common causes of absence noted are minor illnesses, such as colds, flu,
stomach upsets, headaches,
and migraines, are by far the most common cause of short-term
absence. Musculoskeletal injuries and back pain are the next most common causes of short-term
absence for manual employees, followed by stress, home/family responsibilities, and recurring
medical conditions such as asthma, angina, and allergies.

Stress remains the second most common cause of short-term absence among non-manual workers,
followed by musculoskeletal injuries, back pain, and recurring medical conditions. Over a third of
employers reported that stress-related absence has increased over the past year. The top causes of
stress at work are workloads, external relationships, organizational change/ restructuring, and
management styles.
Popular methods to identify and reduce workplace stress include using staff
surveys, flexible working options/improved work–life balance, training for managers and/or staff, and risk assessments, targets, and benchmarking.

The survey concluded that the most common and successful method used to manage short-term
absence are return-to-work interviews, trigger mechanisms to review attendance, giving sickness
absence information to line managers, and disciplinary procedures for unacceptable absence.

To help you manage absence better within your organisation you could start by implementing a
framework of questions when you have an absence scenario to manage:

o Has the employee contacted the organization to explain their absence?
o Is the employee aware that the absence is unauthorized?
o Has the organization contacted the employee to explain that the absence is unauthorized?
o Has the employee had previous periods of unauthorized absence?
o Are there any disciplinary warnings on record?

Once you have answered these questions, the next steps to follow are:

  1. Write to the employee explaining that the absence was unauthorized, explaining why.
  2. Inform payroll, ensuring that there is no pay for the period of unauthorized absence.
  3. Write to the employee, inviting him/her to a disciplinary meeting, if appropriate.
  4. Meet with the employee on return to work, explaining that the absence was unauthorized
    and why.
  5. Write to the employee confirming the outcome of the disciplinary meeting. If disciplinary action has
    been taken, inform the employee of the right to appeal.
  6. Set a date for a review meeting with the employee.
  7. Monitor ongoing absence.

The introduction of return-to-work interviews has been proven to assist many companies in
managing their absence situations better and reducing the levels of short-term absence.

Here is an example of the sort of template you could use to record this return-to-work

Return to work interview following sickness absence form

Details of meeting



Date of meeting:

Periods of sickness absence in the previous 12 months:

Key points discussed:

Action required:

Agreed timescale for improvement (if appropriate):

Signed: ……………………………………………………. Date: ……………..

Signed: ……………………………………………………. Date: ……………..

To contact Jane Middleton for further information about this topic or anything else please email her at
jane@themiddletonpartnership.com, talk to her at 07900-250782, or find out more information about what The Middleton Partnership can do for your business at www.themiddletonpartnership.com

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