Written by KATHRYN HATHAWAY

The challenges faced by line managers, and those faced by employers in supporting people in leadership roles, are among the most common areas that our specialists at Reality HR advise on.

Over the coming weeks, we’ll be focusing on the issues most commonly encountered by our team in a series of “Talking Points” around line manager topics.

Here’s the first, in which we look at how line managers can tackle employee absences.

Unexpected absences can have a significant impact on a business and can affect employee morale, workload and productivity. At its worst, absence, particularly if it is a regular or prolonged occurrence, can make it extremely difficult to run a team effectively.

The CIPD, the professional body for human resources professionals, recently estimated the annual cost of sickness absence for UK businesses at around £554 per employee. According to Public Health England, 131 million working days are lost to sickness absence each year, costing the UK economy £100billion.

However, with some simple measures in place, absenteeism can be significantly reduced, and line managers have a key role to play here.

Here are some recommendations for line managers from the team at Reality HR:

Start by assuming the absence is genuine

If someone is frequently absent, it can be tempting to make a judgement that they are not being entirely honest. That is dangerous – it can get everyone off on the wrong footing and lead to resentment.

Remember that an underlying medical condition could be the cause of the absence – and that not all illnesses are visible. A 2017 report by Deloitte found that mental health issues lie behind 11% of sick days. The likelihood is that this figure could be even higher.

There could be avenues to explore which may alleviate the issues – for example if employees feel overwhelmed with their workload or have problems with another team member. Don’t just focus on the absence – treat the person as a whole and try to understand if something lies at the root of the problem.

Consider the impact of absence

It is crucial that line managers act sensitively and flexibly when it comes to dealing with an absentee. However, it is sometimes easy to overlook the impact of one person’s absence on others in the team who are left to pick up the workload. Ensure that as part of the process, they are communicated with and updated – for example with information about the likely duration of the absence and any arrangements that are being made to cover for it.

If you’re a line manager, also consider the impact on your own wellbeing. Having to take time away from your day to day role to deal with the absence, train others to fill in and deal with a stressed and unhappy team can all take its toll. Don’t be afraid to seek support from your employer.

Communication is key

It’s good to talk. Even if an employee is on a long-term absence, it is fine to contact them – it may help you to get a clearer understanding of their situation and helps them feel like they are still a part of the team.

More generally, regular communication with staff about their wellbeing can reap dividends in terms of morale and productivity. Consider a Wellness Action Plan (WAP) for each member of staff – find out more with our free guide for employers here.

After any absence it’s good practice to conduct a return to work interview. Welcome the employee back and check if they are well enough to be back at work.

Return to work interviews help employees understand that you care about their wellbeing but can also help deter those who may be tempted to try it on.

Have a policy – and stick to it

An effective policy should cover the following:

  • How an employee notifies you when they are late, ill or absent for another reason
  • When they should submit a doctor’s note
  • Sick pay arrangements
  • When time off may be allowed
  • The consequences of not complying with the policy.

In the worst cases, a possible consequence may be dismissal – but line managers should ensure that they carry out a proper investigation before making threats or jumping to conclusions.

Seek training

Line managers are sometimes high performers who are rewarded with promotion to a more senior role. However, while it is commendable to encourage progression, it’s important to ensure that the new manager is equipped to deal with the role.

That usually requires training, either in the form of mentoring by another senior member of the team, or input from people management specialists.

Line managers who fear they may be under-equipped should not be afraid to ask for help – any good employer will recognise that it is good practice to fully support those in leadership roles.

Making staff feel valued and part of a team as well as implementing flexible working and family friendly policies are the most effective ways to keep absenteeism to a minimum.

If you need help with writing an absence policy, right to work forms, Wellness Action Plans or could benefit from an absence management training course, please contact us by emailing: info@realityhr.co.uk or call us on: 01256 328428.