Employee absenteeism can be a serious (and costly) HR issue. But it’s an area that’s important to know how to manage. Especially with sick leave entitlements increasing from five to 10 days this month under the Holidays (increasing Sick Leave) Bill –  a change that critics argue will provide employees with more “paid holidays” and affect the bottom-line for many businesses.

Employee absence indeed has significant cost implications on business. According to research, the average rate of absence in the workplace is higher than in previous years at 4.7 days per worker. The average cost to a business per absent employee is typically around $600 to $1000 a year. But that cost is 1.7 times greater for organisations with 50 or more employees.

Employee absences can also negatively impact productivity; knock-on effects such as workload, covering shifts, and other workers having to pick up the “slack” can be exhausting and lower morale.

So, what causes absenteeism, and what can you do to prevent the risks associated with excessive employee absences? Below, you’ll find some helpful strategies to help you mitigate the risks associated with absenteeism.

Common causes of employee absenteeism

Often referred to as “pulling a sickie”, it’s not common for an employee to skip work simply because they can’t be bothered working. There’s usually at least one factor underlying a habitual behaviour of absence from work and these can include:

  • illness and injury;
  • stress and burnout;
  • childcare or caring for elderly family members;
  • disengagement at work; and
  • bullying.

As an HR professional or people leader, it’s vital to understand how these causes – particularly stress, burnout and disengagement or low workplace morale – can affect your team and your people. You’ll be best placed to address absence with your employee and achieve a positive outcome if you take time to understand the root cause of the behaviour rather than blaming your employee at the outset.

Sick days can support absence management

Paid sick leave entitlements can be an effective way to manage employee absence due to illness and injury; this entitlement can support your people to stay home and recover so they can return to work healthy and in the best frame of mind for work. In the case of illness, paid sick days can mitigate the risk of an employee coming to work unwell and spreading colds and flu throughout the workplace. One thing the coronavirus pandemic showed all of us was how effective isolating from others could be for preventing contagion.

Most sick leave is genuine, and it shouldn’t be common practice to treat sick leave with suspicion: to do so would be detrimental for any business trying to build a healthy culture of rest and self-care. However, if you’ve noticed a pattern of excessive or unusual sick leave, or you believe you have evidence of dishonesty, you should approach this proactively to mitigate any risk to your business. If you’re unsure about your employer obligations concerning sick leave read this blog.

Five best-practice steps to manage absenteeism

Below are five best-practice HR tips to help you prevent or manage absenteeism in your workplace:

  1. Implement clear leave and absenteeism policies that outline the expectations of your business around giving notice for and requesting sick leave;
  2. Enforce your policies by sharing them with your workforce and following this with communication about what is acceptable for taking sick leave;
  3. Make sure you have clear guidelines about absence notification and who employees should notify, how and when;
  4. Address continuous or excessive absenteeism as it occurs, even if this means a disciplinary process in certain circumstances. The last thing you want is to give your employees the impression that misusing sick leave is acceptable behaviour as this will negatively impact workplace culture and morale; and
  5. If it’s appropriate, you can request evidence or medical certificates (making sure you follow your employer obligations under the Holidays Act 2003).

Workplace strategies to improve productivity and employee engagement 

Do you suspect you have a culture of absenteeism in your workplace? Here are some strategies to try that can help boost productivity and engagement – both can help your business combat absenteeism.

  1. Identify and address the causes of absenteeism in your workplace. For example, are heavy workloads contributing to a lack of engagement or motivation and is there anything you can do to alleviate this stress?
  2. Look to improve the work environment and workplace culture. One way to do this is to introduce social or sports events, incentives, flexible work arrangements etc. At enableHR, we have a social committee made up of people across our business, who help to promote and encourage social activity and engagement.
  3. Reduce strain and stress at work by actively talking to your employees about their workload regularly.
  4. Engage in face-to-face ‘wellness’ meetings with your employees when they return from a period of sick leave to check if they’re ok and identify any long term or personal issues that may cause future absence.
  5. Talk to your employees about the negative effect absenteeism has on their colleagues, such as increased stress and workloads.

Don’t leave absenteeism to chance

An employee will inevitably be sick from time to time, but, high rates of absenteeism may indicate underlying issues which are critical for you to address. Overall, by understanding the impacts and causes of excessive use of sick leave and implementing the right strategies, you can drive your culture in a direction that supports a healthy and productive work environment.

If you have any questions about managing absenteeism or misuse of sick leave, contact the friendly team at enableHR.

With the templates, checklist and features available in enableHR, you’ll have everything you need to be 100% compliant when managing your people.

See enableHR in action today! Contact us to learn more about how we can help your business get compliance right – all the time.