Absence management is an organization’s strategy to track, manage, and, where necessary, reduce employee absences.
Organizations manage absences through a combination of policies, procedures, and programs. This ensures unexplained or excessive absences are dealt with in a fair, transparent, and sensitive way.
With effective absence management, organizations can minimize disruption to the workplace caused by absences, support employees unable to work due to illness or injury, and address issues of extended, unexplained, or recurring absences.
What counts as an absence?
Absence is the time an employee is away from work due to an unplanned event such as illness, injury, mental health issues, or carer responsibilities.
Only spontaneous time away from work, rather than planned leave such as vacation or maternity leave, counts as an absence. Disability leave is separate and is not defined in the same way as an absence.
Absences can be both short and long term and encompass employees missing whole workdays, as well as turning up late for work or leaving a shift early.
What are the causes of employee absence?
Employee absences may be due to:
- physical illness
- minor ailments such as a cold or flu
- serious health conditions
- mental health issues
- stress and burnout
- carer responsibilities
- family issues
- bullying or harassment in the workplace
- commuting issues
- disengagement and low workplace morale.
Why is absence management important?
Absence management helps organizations increase productivity, reduce costs, and boost employee well-being.
Unplanned absences, even short ones, can directly affect an organization’s bottom line. The cost of finding a replacement to cover an absent employee, as well as the impact on the replacement’s productivity quickly add up.
Absences not only impact the productivity of the employees directly involved. Supervisors can lose precious time completing any required paperwork and co-workers can also be disrupted.
Without absence management, an organization has to react to unplanned absences rather than proactively anticipating and accounting for them.
Work culture and well-being
In addition to the financial cost, absences can also affect work culture. When an employee is unexpectedly absent, other employees may have to pick up their work by swapping shifts, working overtime, or reprioritizing their own work.
The disruption caused by absences can lead to resentment and discontent among employees. Over time, it can also impact employee engagement and increase burnout, further affecting an organization’s bottom line.
Lengthy or reoccurring absences can also indicate other underlying organizational issues. For example, the reason for an employee’s constant absence could be due to the fact they’re trying to avoid workplace bullying or are suffering from low workplace morale.
How do you manage employee absence?
Absence management involves developing organizational policies, procedures, and programs to monitor and address unplanned absences. Organizations can tailor these to suit their needs and industry and to comply with any legal requirements.
An absence policy sets out organizational standards around absence. It defines what an absence is and explains how it’s measured.
Absence policies will also include the rights and responsibilities of employees in relation to absence, and what both the statutory and contractual pay arrangements are if it occurs.
The policy should also provide examples of scenarios amounting to absence such as:
- short or long term leave due to illness or injury
- caregiver leave
- bereavement leave.
To ensure employee buy-in, an absence policy should explain why absence management is necessary and identify how it supports employees during unavoidable extended absences, return to work periods, and so on.
Presenteeism is when an employee continues to come to work, even when they are sick or injured. This might be because they feel pressure to do so or they’re worried about the consequences of taking leave.
In addition to the obvious impact on employee well-being, presenteeism can extend a person’s illness or make it worse, reducing their effectiveness at work.
Absence policies should give consideration to the issue of presenteeism and take care not to encourage it.
Absence procedures set out the steps an employee should take when they are absent, including who they need to notify and when. They should also explain when an employee needs to provide supporting documentation, such as a doctor’s certificate.
Importantly, the procedure should also address the steps management must take when an employee is absent. This includes return to work processes such as return to work interviews and reasonable workplace adjustments to support an employee after a period of time off.
Absence procedures must also explain when absence may be managed and its potential consequences, including any disciplinary action that may be taken if an employee breaches the absence policy. All procedures around this need to be clear and non-discriminatory.
Organizations can implement programs and other practical measures to improve the health and well-being of their employees, reducing the risk of absences. These could include giving employees access to health information in the workplace or a company doctor, free exercise classes during their lunch break, or healthy office snacks.
It’s unreasonable to expect employees to follow policies and procedures they don’t know about. So it’s important that an organization clearly communicates its absence management plan to employees from their first day.
Absence management also requires ongoing communication between the employer and employee, especially in the event of long-term absences. This helps the organization identify what it can do to support an employee’s return to work.
Examples of absence management strategies
Absence management strategies available to organizations include the below.
- Return to work plans: these encourage a dialogue between managers and employees to understand how an organization can best support an employee to return to work
- Flexible working arrangements: allowing employees to work flexibly, such as from home and/ or part-time, may help to prevent absences and can also be a feature of return to work plans
- Access to health information: an organization can proactively provide employees with access to health information, improving their well-being and reducing absences due to illness or injury
- Other well-being measures: such as offering lunchtime sports classes and healthy snacks
- Absence management software: with this software, organizations can centrally track absences to analyze the data and identify any patterns to shape absence management strategies.
Absences can negatively impact employee engagement and morale. On top of this, they generate high replacement and lost productivity costs, affecting an organization’s bottom line.
By using absence management to track employee absences, identify any concerning patterns, and shape policies and procedures in response, organizations can prepare for unplanned time off in their workforce and minimize the disruption it can cause as best as possible.