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Can you reduce excessive absenteeism in the workplace?



The answer is yes! Monitoring employee sick days is the first step to improving staff absence rates. Data analysis can then help shape your longer-term strategy to reduce excessive absenteeism.


Being ill. It’s part of life. But when it strikes and appears to strike more times than might be expected, it can be business-crippling and the reputational damage absence can cause can be catastrophic. Only this month UK train company, Northern Rail, blamed increased train cancellations during the Christmas period on experiencing a sudden spike in sickness during December. But this won’t have satisfied passengers and will have caused damage to their brand. However, consumer-facing companies are not the only ones affected.

The cost of sick days

High sickness absence is clearly a worry. Currently, an average of 4.4 days’ sickness absence is taken by each worker every year1 (costing UK employers of £77 billion in lost productivity2), but while the trend has been generally downward in recent years, no business wants to be seen as a place where workers repeatedly call in sick (perhaps due to over-work or stress).

And, where absence can be an even bigger issue is why it occurs, but physical sickness isn’t actually the root cause. In a recent poll by the CIPD, it found 40% of adults said they would call in ‘sick’ simply because they felt they needed a break from work3. This signals deeper at-work issues are possibly taking hold: that there is an underlining poor working culture, low engagement, and distrust in managers.

Measuring the data is the first step

The key, of course, is measurement. The only way to know if absence is reaching excessive levels is by looking at the numbers. It’s vital employers know if their workforce is suffering because there may be an obligation for them to try and do something about it. Measurement is especially important if the data then reveals there are specific at-work factors that are obviously contributing to frequent absence. It’s only through recording sickness that trends can be seen – for instance there are higher pockets of absence affecting specific business units, or even people under the same manager. Once you know where localised issues are, the work can be done to improve it. Again, it’s only through measurement that businesses can then compare new data with old to know if they’re making difference with any strategic interventions.

Good workplace cultures create trust

But while data-driven technology is great for revealing patterns, on its own it won’t get to the root of absenteeism. Data suggests many employers would still rather take ‘unexplained sickness absence’ (ie leave the reason they report in sick blank), for fear of revealing they suffer from ‘taboo’ problems – like anxiety or poor mental health, or have other concerns they feel awkward talking to their line managers about. Indeed, when XpertHR recently polled organisations about their own staff’s sickness absence, it found 88% of employers believed their staff had taken sickness absence due to mental ill-health, but found the majority of staff did not tell them that this was the reason for it4. Therefore to optimise the accuracy of your data, the requirement for allowing employees to discreetly provide reasons behind illness is on the increase, which is something that leave management software can help with.

So what’s really needed is for firms to encourage a transparent approach to absence and actively encourage them to report their reason for needing time off (and take a few days off to get better), because by doing so, not only will employees feel trusting of managers, but businesses will gain insight they need to make real change. It could also encourage employers to offer other options such as working from home if they feel up to it but not well enough to travel to the office.

It’s only when employees feel they have a supportive, and non-accusatory illness reporting culture, that hiding sickness and hiding presenteeism (being at-work physically, but not really there in mind) becomes a thing of the past. When employers demonstrate they are willing to capture this illness data too, employees can feel reassured their bosses are actually prepared to do something about it, rather than brush it under the carpet.

If you're interested in finding out more about leave management software, try Appogee Leave free for 14 days with our trial.


1 https://www.personneltoday.com/hr/sickness-absence-2018-increase/

2 https://www.consultancy.uk/news/15551/sick-staff-cost-british-firms-77-billion-annually-in-lost-productivity

3 https://www.peoplemanagement.co.uk/news/articles/do-not-demonise-staff-for-taking-sickies

4 https://www.personneltoday.com/hr/mental-health-sickness-absence/