This report shall investigate the problematic area of sickness absence with an emphasis on long-term sickness absence, highlighting the reasons why this area must be addressed and how organisations can manage this effectively. The term “absence” is used to describe the period of time that an employee is not in attendance at work. With this in mind, absence can cover many different reasons for people not attending work. These include, long-term sickness absence, short-term sickness absence , unauthorised absence, persistent lateness, annual leave, parental leave, maternity leave, educational leave, compassionate leave and many more.
CIPD, 2007) There are two main types of sickness absence, short term and long term. “Short term sickness is by far the most common form of absence accounting for eighty percent of all absences. ” (ACAS, 2007)
Short term absence is an absence for a period of less than three days. The main forms of short term absence are minor illnesses such as colds and flu’s, headaches and muscular sprains.
(ACAS, 2007) Whereas long term absence presents a more significant problem for organisations and “can have a devastating effect on the performance of your business and the health and wellbeing of your employees. (HSE, 2008) Stress is the number one reason for long term sickness absence in the UK. The other main causes of long term absence are back pain and mental ill health issues. Sickness absence in general, both long and short term costs organisations over thirteen billion pounds per year. This is six hundred and fifty nine pounds per employee per year and constitutes for two hundred million working days per year, eight point four percent for every member of staff which is three point seven percent of total working time. (CIPD, 2007)
Aswell as the aforementioned monetary costs there are also numerous intangible costs associated with absence in the workplace. However, until very recently these costs were not as visible to management as monetary costs. “Absence as a problem only comes to managerial attention when it appears to cost money. ” (Dunn and Wilkinson, 2002) These intangible costs can be extremely detrimental to organisations. Such as the effect absent member of staff can have on other team members due to added responsibility and increased workload. This low morale can in turn affect attitudes to work.
When employees are absent from work they are very often replaced with staff from temporary employment agencies. These inexperienced temporary replacements have been known to damage the reputation of organisations. If an organisations customers are not being provided with the service they are paying for, for example if they are repeatedly being told that the organisation is suffering form staff shortages or the person they require is “off sick” and they are being met with inexperienced temporary staff then they may well take their business elsewhere. If this occurs then the reputation of the organisation can be permanently damaged.
Traditionally organisations used hard methods of HRM to attempt to manage absence in the workplace. Such as disciplinary procedures for unacceptable levels of absence and restricting employees sick pay. However, these methods did not significantly reduce the absence levels within organisations and also were seen to have a detrimental effect on employee morale and what is now referred to as employee wellbeing. (CIPD, 2007) It is clear to see that many of these traditional and hard methods of managing absence were mainly concerned with the monetary costs involved.
Many organisations have now shifted to more contemporary approaches to managing absence and these are frequently regarded as the softer methods of HRM. (Armstrong, 2003) The contemporary approach to managing absence focuses more on the employee welfare side of the equation rather than the costs incurred. Also, this approach is more concerned with the problem of long term sickness absence as opposed to short term, however, it is used in the battle against short term also. Te fundamentals of the contemporary pproach to absence management include carrying out return to work interviews, keeping in contact with employees on long term sick and ensuring that line managers are fully trained in absence management. ACAS have developed a five point plan for managing long term absence. The plan includes the aforementioned approaches, including keeping in regular contact with employees and conducting return to work interviews but also advises organisations to be clear about arrangements for sick pay, use occupational health and seek medical advice and ensure they develop a “getting back to work” programme.
Although it is not mentioned in ACAS’s five point plan, it is clear from the literature surrounding the management of absence that ensuring line managers are trained in this area is extremely important to organisations today. As they are seen as being on the front line with employees and therefore better than perhaps a distanced HR team at recognising problematic levels of absence, unusual levels of absence and also being aware of the bets way to deal with individual employee needs.
It is also beneficial to have line manager’s involved in handling sensitive cases of absence as they are more aware of the individual employee, they are not a stranger to the employee. (CIPD, 2007, ACAS, 2007, ACAS, 2008, Armstrong, 2003, Marchington and Wilkinson, 2005) This is a very contemporary approach to absence management and is connected to the devolvement of HR to line managers. One of the most controversial approaches to tackling absence in the workplace recently has come from Carol Black, the National Director for Health and Work.
In Black’s report “Working for a Healthier Tomorrow” she questions the current sick not system and proposes that these should be replaced by a fit note system. The fit note rather than stating that sick employees were unable to work would instead detail what they were able to do. However, this Government initiative has also received a vast amount of opposition also. “The responsibility for getting long term absentees back to work and for stopping the short term absentees becoming long term ones rests with employers. ” (Health and Wellbeing, 2008)
As previously mentioned, many of today’s employers are making a priority of tackling the absence problem of today and many of these have been extremely successful. From simple and straightforward initiatives such as introducing flexible working to enabling employees to analyse their lifestyles online. One of the most successful cases of introducing flexible working is in the case of the Inland Revenue. The Inland Revenue required extended opening hours in their public office in order to meet customer satisfaction, however they also still wanted to ensure that their employees retained a healthy balance between work life and home life.
In order to do this they decided upon implementing flexible working using a project called the “OurTime” project. Rather than going down the normal route of only introducing one form of flexible working, they allowed their employees to make the choice. Employees can choose from many different types of flexible working including compressed working time, no core time, variable core time and banking time. This approach has been extremely successful for the Inland Revenue and on employee has been quoted as saying this choice “helps them to enjoy work more” thus greatly enhancing their employee wellbeing.
The “OurTime” project was so innovative and successful that it has since been adopted by many other companies when implementing flexible working. (Employers for Work Life Balance, 2003) Another company who is at the forefront of employee wellbeing initiatives is Standard Life. Standard Life are a major employer and as such suffered from huge levels of employee absence. Standard Life decided to tack this problem by promoting employee wellbeing in doing this they have introduced a Health Management Programme.
One of the most innovative parts of this programme is the Online Health Portal where employees can have their lifestyles analysed and receive advice and information on nutrition, exercise and stress. Standard Life also provide employees with access to leisure facilities such as gyms and swimming pools. (Standard Life, 2008) Standard Life also have in house Occupational Health experts who are expertly trained in dealing with issues relating to health in the workplace. Standard Life, 2008) This is a route which many organisations are now taking, it is now not uncommon for employers who do not have in house specialists to regularly call on the services of an external expert. Many managers will refer employees to an Occupational Health Specialist if they feel the organisation does not have the skills to help the employee. (McFadzean, 2006) This is very common with complex counselling cases, which often stem from mental ill health problems, employers will refer their employees to a specialist. However, some larger organisations have brought in their own specialists to offer such advice to employees.
An example of this is RBS, as part of their “LifeMatters” employee wellbeing strategy, RBS have experts on hand to deal with a vast amount of employee issues ranging from managing stress to counselling for bereavement to career development and financial advice. (RBS, 2008) It is evident that many of the organisations who have been successful in tackling absence and taking into consideration employee wellbeing and occupational health have incorporated many of the same ideas. However, although they may have implemented the same policies or procedures, they do not always have the same results.
As recommended by ACAS, many companies now have regular contact with employees who are on long term sick. However, a number of these companies have stated that they are unsure as to whether this makes much of a difference in absence levels whereas other believe this has made a vast contribution to the improvement of absence levels. An impressive example of this is the prestigious company Rolls Royce. Rolls Royce have included keeping in regular contact with long term sick employees into their absence management policy and have reported that this has been a positive contribution to help people return to work.
As employees now feel that management are genuinely interested in them, and enhances mutual respect. Since the introduction of this contact, the number of days lost per employee at Rolls Royce has fallen from six point eight to four point two per year with a saving of eleven million pounds. It is clearly obvious that employee wellbeing and occupational health, when implemented correctly can permit organisations today to manage long term absence effectively.
However, it is also clear that management in many more organisations must take on board these initiatives and think about the cost of absence not only in monetary terms but also in terms of the effect it can be having on the organisation itself and its workforce. Once this is evident to an organisation, and they are made aware of the impact that employee wellbeing and occupational health can have on an organisation, it could mean a vast reduction in the levels of absence in the UK and hopefully a vast increase in the number of healthy, happy and present employees.
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Managing Absence Management Effectively. (2017, Mar 12). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/managing-absence-management-effectively/