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How to use metrics and action triggers to manage absence

The Health and Safety Executive reports that sickness absence costs UK businesses £12 billion each year.  That’s an extraordinary amount in a struggling economy.  Of course, absence in small businesses has a huge impact.  According to the Federation of Small Business, small companies are more likely to suffer from employees taking periods of short-term absence and it reports that long-term absence can be a very expensive problem for them.

The bad news is that small businesses are less likely to monitor sickness absence and manage it proactively.  This is probably due to competing priorities and a lack of knowledge in dealing with such situations, especially if the business owner knows the employee well.

Putting an absence policy in place and alerting employees to it will pay dividends.  Research suggests that good absence management helps to lower costs and time spent off sick.

Why measuring absence is a good idea

The Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development recommends that all companies keep a record of employee absence.  Staff should be required to complete a self-certificate if they are off sick for less than a week and to submit a doctor’s fit note for absences longer than this.  While those documents are needed for Statutory Sick Pay purposes, the information on them should also be logged to get an understanding of absence lengths and patterns.

Why is this important?  Simply, it’s easy to forget that Judy was off sick for a couple of weeks nine months ago and is now off sick again for a similar reason.  And it’s not always obvious that Mike has a tendency to be off sick after each holiday or on the occasional Monday.  If you keep a grid or record for each employee, this information will be available to you as you decide how to manage each case.

There are a number of ways of measuring absence, such as the frequency rate, the lost time rate, the individual frequency rate and the Bradford factor.  To make things easy, you should choose one way of measuring sickness and stick with it.  The lost time option is the one most often used by companies and tells you how much working time, as a percentage, has been lost to absence during a certain period of time.

For example, if someone is off sick for 35 hours during a three month period with a total working time of 455 hours, the calculation is as follows:

(35/455) * 100 = 7.7%

If this seems like a lot of work, bear in mind that you can compare rates between employees and departments as well as with absence figures available within your sector.  The amount of time that your company can spend on monitoring absence will obviously depend upon its resources and the extent to which sickness absence is a problem.

For more information on measuring time lost to absence, take a read of How to Measure Time Lost to Sickness Absence.

How to use triggers with your absence data

There’s no point in collecting absence data if it’s not used to improve practice.  A good way of managing absence is to set triggers or stages and to specify what action will be taken at each step to review, support and manage employees who are off sick.  When your absence records indicate that an employee has triggered a particular stage, it’s easy for you or your managers to know what to do because it’s already specified in an absence policy.

The action stages need to cover both short-term and long-term absence so that you can manage any employees who take one or two days off on a regular basis as well as employees who are submitting GP fit notes for a long-term health condition.  By installing these triggers and explaining to employees why they are necessary, the company will send a clear message that sickness absence will be managed fairly, with a view to arranging a return to work as quickly as possible.

Absence triggers or stages have the following advantages:

  • They act as a deterrent to employees who are prone to taking too many sick days.  If they know that action will be taken at certain absence stages, they will hesitate to phone in sick when they actually just don’t feel like going to work.
  • They provide a framework to manage absence, giving you confidence to manage any type of sickness absence.
  • They make sure that employees are treated fairly and consistently so there is less chance of employees claiming that they are being victimised.
  • A full absence policy will contain triggers and steps necessary to manage conditions that may be classed as a disability and help you to avoid any discrimination issues.

For information on the types of absence triggers you may wish to introduce and how to communicate them to employees, take a read of our article, How to implement trigger points to help manage absence.

If you have any difficult absence situations and need practical advice on how to manage them, please give us a call on 01237 239028.