How can I deal with employee absence?

sick day

Although the UK’s absence rate is now at a record low, it still has a massive impact on UK businesses, and it’s even more of a problem during big sporting events such as the Olympics, European Championships and the World Cup. Consequently, an estimated one-in-eight sick days is taken for non-genuine reasons, with one in five employers believing employees take “sickies” as an occasional perk.

The question on everyone’s lips is how can UK employers engage their employees, invest in their wellbeing, and, as a result, bring absence levels down? Here, Will Burrows, head of employment law at Lewis Hymanson Small, gives his top tips:

Large sporting events

Unfortunately it’s not only pride that can suffer throughout sporadic sporting events such as the World Cup, European Championships and the Olympics; so does productivity in the workplace. Millions of employers will be faced with, “C’mon boss, it’s only on once every few years.” It’s easy to see how you might feel guilty about being seemingly ‘unfair’ when it comes to granting employees time off to watch the big game. Unfortunately, it can be a fine balance between beinga fair boss and being taken advantage of. It’s within your rights to continue with business as usual, but for employee morale it would be wise to implement some kind of policy around these events. You could consider reorganising the shift rota, introducing flexible working, remote working, annual leave allowances or even screening events in your office. Either way, it’s essential to get the right balance of employee enjoyment and business output.

Invest in wellbeing

Employee wellbeing can be all too quickly brushed aside when it should actually be one of the first things you consider, up there with your core business objectives. In fact, recent research from HR Magazine suggests wellbeing should be taken seriously as a boardroom issue, highlighting the worrying amount of companies that are ignoring it. Your employees are your most valuable asset so it’s imperative you invest in them – health and wellbeing should no longer be an additional extra.

Many large firms have staff wellbeing programmes including cut-price gym memberships, after work classes, additional training and even days off for special occasions such as birthdays. While SMEs may not have budgets as big as large corporates it really is worth considering developing some form of health and wellbeing strategy.

Flexibility is key

With recent statistics indicating there’s now a record number of people working from home (1 out of 7) and new rules to be enforced at the end of the month meaning all employees will have the right to ask for flexible working hours, UK business must revise their policies. There are growing fears employers could be missing out on the best talent as a result of not adopting modern approaches and advertising jobs as ‘flexible’.

Staff are more inclined to pull ‘sickies’ when they can’t get the time off to attend a short appointment and they don’t want to take a full day’s leave. Flexible working hours are a perfect solution, allowing employees to work from home or come in later and just work through lunch, for example. Many employers are now seeing the benefit of recognising employee achievements rather than hours worked and with modern technology allowing easy access to remote working, it could be silly not to consider it in some capacity.

Remember your legal rights

And if worse comes to worst, you do of course have legal rights. It’s within your rights to ask employees for ‘fit notes’ if they take more than seven days off in succession and you can also hold ‘back to work interviews’ if you deem necessary. In addition, there are consequences for employees found to be lying about reasons for an absence which can be career damaging. If a member of staff is found to have taken sick leave but it transpires there are suffering with an alcohol induced illness, you may need to take disciplinary procedures.

Employees with long-term sickness, a growing issue in the UK, can be introduced back to work gently with flexible or part-time hours, doing different or less stressful work (with training if necessary) and a consultancy with an employer about how best they might get back into work. You could be landed with an employment tribunal should your employee think they have been unfairly dismissed following a period of long-term sickness.

Of course, health and wellbeing strategies should be a key component for all business, from SMEs to large corporates. Investing in employees should no longer be an additional extra, but a business objective.

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