Sickness Absence: a Problem Not to Be Sniffed at

Regardless of the truth around National Sickie Day, sickness absence remains a major issue for organisations. Here’s what you can do to manage it more effectively.

Sickness Absence: a Problem Not to Be Sniffed at

Regardless of the truth around National Sickie Day, Chris Kerridge, employee engagement expert at MHR, says sickness absence remains a major issue for organisations. He offers advice on what you can do to manage this more effectively.

Today is National Sickie Day, allegedly the day when your employees are most likely to call in sick.

While the legitimacy of this is debatable, it is true that the winter months typically see higher absence rates, often due to seasonal illnesses as well as low mood and the post-Christmas blues. It is also true that Monday is by far the most common day for people to call in sick – according to a survey by the ELAS Group, Mondays accounted for 9 of the top ten days for absence.

Regardless of the truth around National Sickie Day, one thing is clear: unplanned absence is a major issue for organisations. A report by the Office for National Statistics revealed that approximately 137,000 million work days were lost due to sickness absence in 2016, with ACAS calculating the annual cost to the UK economy at approximately £17 billion.

High absence rates also betray a wider issue around employee engagement, with disengaged staff more likely to ‘pull a sickie’. According to the CIPD’s 2016 Absence Management report, a quarter of organisation’s reported non-genuine absence as one of their top five causes of short-term absence.

With the cost to business so high, what can organisations do to manage absence more effectively?

Get your policy in order

Having a solid absence management policy in place, with clear rules around how and when employees should notify their line managers about time off, will ensure that absence is correctly logged and monitored.

Return-to-work interviews play a key part in ascertaining the cause and duration of absence, and act as an effective deterrent against dishonest absence or excuses. They also provide a safe environment for employees to discuss any health issues they may be suffering from.

While your policy should make people take absence more seriously, it’s important that your staff don’t feel pressured into working while genuinely unwell. We all get ill from time to time, and a few days resting at home is better than struggling through a day in the office, getting little done and potentially spreading the illness to others.

Gain insights with HR software

Recording and monitoring absence has never been easier, thanks to smart HR software. This allows you to spot trends and patterns in both individual and group absences, giving you valuable insights into the true cost of absence, and providing evidence for those difficult conversations with employees. While it may be difficult to tell genuine and non-genuine absence apart, any employee that repeatedly calls in sick on Mondays should raise concerns.

Nevertheless, the subject of non-genuine absence is a tricky one to broach. While it may be necessary to raise concerns about the frequency of an individual’s absence, it is important to remember that repeated or regular time off could be a result of something more sensitive than simply skiving off work.

Perhaps the person is suffering from a mental health issue that they don’t feel comfortable talking about, or work-related stress that they fear would jeopardise their position if discussed. Maybe they are unable to balance work with other responsibilities, such as looking after a young child or elderly parent.

The key is to create an environment where your employees feel they can talk about such problems openly and honestly. Once you understand the reasons for absence, you can try and find a solution that suits both the organisation and the individual.


At MHR, we understand how important effective absence management is to your organisation. That’s why our award-winning iTrent solution allows you to record, monitor and control absence on a single platform, providing a complete overview of the time your employees spend off work. To find out how iTrent can help you manage absence, attendance and much more, click here.