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Quick Wins To Manage “The Odd Day Off”

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Imagine you have a group of employees who are grumbling amongst themselves about their colleague who is off sick – again! 

Or at least, they think she is sick as she didn’t show her face for work this morning .  All they can see is that nobody appears to be doing anything about her repeated absences and she “gets away with it” and they have to carry the extra work while she is off.  They are spending more time at the water cooler (or maybe on the online chat facility), moaning about their colleague, than they are spending on their own jobs.

Is it genuine sickness?

Sometimes absence may be genuine sickness, sometimes you may have doubts.  So how can you tell whether or not it is genuine? And what can you do about it?

The quick answer is that you cannot tell the difference, particularly if there is a mental health issue or a hidden disability which is not obvious to anybody other than the sufferer.   The best advice is to treat all sickness as genuine and assume that there is a real health issue (even if you are convinced that the person is “trying it on”).

So what can you do?

Firstly, somebody’s absence is their own business and their manager’s business. It is not something to be shared with their colleagues.  As the manager, you should not tell their colleagues why an individual is absent or what action you are taking. 

However, you might find it helpful to tell the team that their colleague will not be in work today and that you know about it and are speaking to the individual about it. That gives the message that a) the absence has been noticed and b) it is being dealt with.

Return to work discussions

It is always useful to have an informal interview with the absent employee when they return to work.  This can give you more information (whether there is a problem at home; whether they are unhappy at work for some reason, whether there is a physical problem – like an allergy to something in the workplace).  Or you might find out that they were not sick at all, but the absence was for another reason. 

In any case, you can guide the employee on what they should do (remind them about calling in sick by a certain time, or remind them about their options if they need emergency time off).  You may find out that the employee has a recurring health problem and you can then decide what, if any, adjustments you may need to make to their working patterns, hours or the actual work they do. 

This informal interview gives a strong message to the individual that their absence has been noticed.  If it is genuine sickness, they may be glad of your interest in their welfare.  If it is not genuine sickness, then the fact it has been noticed may prevent them in future from taking time off again without good cause.

Keeping records

There are many good reasons to keep an attendance record for every employee. 

It is advisable to record every occasion of absence, along with the reason for that absence.  This will help you to analyse any patterns. Is it always a Monday? Or perhaps it always happens when a specific piece of work is due.   Maybe someone always takes a day sick  when a particular person is working with them.  In itself, this can highlight areas you need to manage (staff who don’t get on with each other, or a misfit of skills and experience or a lack of training).

Have a clear absence policy

Every business should have a clear and published policy on absence, so that everyone in the workplace can understand the rules and guidance and what are the consequences if they fail to adhere. 

If there is a clear policy about absence and how to report it, and what action will be taken, then nobody can claim that they did not know what is – or is not – acceptable.

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There are things which we can do as employers to improve this type of situation. And it is worth making the effort. A happy workforce equals improved loyalty. That, in turn, brings increased productivity, growth and profit.

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Jill Aburrow - HR Consultant

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