Work sickness

Absence in the workplace can be costly to an organisation; according to government backed research, ill health costs the UK around £60 billion per annum. Not only does it impact financially but it can also have a negative effect on organisational culture, leading to staff disengagement and low morale. Shockingly, a recent study revealed that 27% of employees regularly ‘hide’ in the toilets at work to pass the time, collectively earning over £1.3 billion on average per year as they do so!

Of course, some absences are unavoidable due to illness or injury, however it is important to identify hidden causes at the outset which may not be readily apparent. 

Recurrent poor attendance can often be a symptom of a hidden, underlying problem. Examples include family issues, workplace bullying or stress. If you have concerns about an employee’s health or the duration of their sickness, it may also be appropriate to refer the employee to occupational health.  

By identifying underlying issues early you are more likely to be able to work in partnership with your employee to tackle the problem and be better placed to decide the most appropriate actions to take. Demonstrating a caring, flexible but firm approach is likely to result in a more engaged, motivated and loyal workforce – so hopefully you won’t be one of those employers who are paying people to hide in the toilets! 

Strategies and tips on improving attendance in the workplace:

  • Set out expectations with a well communicated, clear Attendance and Sickness Absence policy and implement it consistently. This should set out the appropriate procedures for employees to follow if they are late or absent. 
  • Train managers in handling difficult conversations, and provide them with a clear support structure so they know who to turn to and how to deal with absenteeism appropriately. Managers should be approachable so that employees feel comfortable talking to them about concerns. It is important not to make any judgements on whether the absence is ‘genuine’ or not until all the facts are known.
  • Monitor trends and reasons for absence. Collecting data on the patterns of employee absence is essential to determining whether absenteeism is a problem in your workplace. 
  • Conduct return-to-work interviews. Research indicates that they are regarded as one of the most effective tools for managing short-term absenteeism.  
  • In appropriate cases, on medical grounds or to accommodate a better work life balance, consider offering flexible options such as working from home or flexitime. Allowing employees more control over their schedules can drastically reduce absenteeism.  
  • Consider implementing ‘Duvet Days’. These allow staff to take a maximum number of days each year at short notice and can help combat absenteeism and improve morale. 
  • Ensure all employees know what support is available to them (for example employee assistance programmes or occupational health) and how to access it.
  • With the right measures and controls, absenteeism can be successfully managed.  

Sherrards is running a popular half day in-house training course on how best to manage staff attendance, including advice on implementing effective management systems and handling difficult conversations. For more information, contact the team on 01273 834120 or visit





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