What to do When Sickness Absence is Impacting Business Productivity

By Helen Burrowes

Senior HR Consultant

It is reported that continued high levels of sickness absence is having an impact on productivity in UK businesses. A third of UK businesses have reported that each week they are short staffed due to sickness absence.

The government has recognised that sickness levels are impacting the UK economy, and referenced this as the ‘sick note’ culture. In response the government has proposed a new focus on the Fit Note process.

What can Businesses do to Manage and Monitor Sickness Absence Levels?

Employers often restrict their communication with employees on sick leave, through fear that they are intruding or could be perceived as harassing the employee to return to work when they are unwell.

Communication is key to any process, and having a policy in place to outline expectations will enable the business to communicate and embed their approach to sickness absence.

Where an employee is absent due to sickness, this first stage of communication between both parties is key.  Communication can include:

  • The expected return to work if known, or end of Fit Note
  • The nature of the medical condition
  • An agreed communication plan while on sickness absence leave
  • Whether support is required on return to work e.g. where the absence has been longer term

Employers should consider the resources available to them, including who will carry out the work in the employees absence, and what medical support is available. 

Resource planning is key, and understanding the duration of the absence supports the business to maintain productivity. Allocating work accordingly and within the expected timeframe in line with the employees absence.    

Where the absence is expected to be for a longer term, then resourcing temporary cover during sickness absence leave may be necessary. Assuming other employees will pick up the work may have a detrimental impact on them, and could lead to work related stress and absence, therefore having a further impact on business productivity. 

Occupational health support is valuable in providing medical advice to the employee and to the employer. Understanding the medical condition and the impact this has on the employee can support a smooth (and in some instances, a quicker) return to the workplace.

Health Insurance / EAP (Employee Assistance Programme) provides the employee with medical support and can enable the employee to return to work sooner than relying on the NHS for any referral and treatment. 

Line managers also play a key role during the absence process, as they are the main communicator with the employee. Asking the right questions, understanding the reasons for absence, and then planning the employees return to work. All these factors are valuable in the engagement with the employee during sickness absence. 

Monitoring absence levels and having a structured process in place to alert employees to high absence rates, can bring down sick days within the business. Communication is key in confirming that sick days are above what is expected e.g. in line with Bradford factor. 

When monitoring sickness absence, where the employee has a medical condition linked with their disability, it is advisable to seek HR advice. The employer may be required to make reasonable adjustments where the employee has a disability. The HR Team / HR Consultants can advise of the appropriate process to follow, to avoid any disability discrimination.

The key message for employers is to communicate effectively with employees, in relation to sickness absence.  Days lost due to sickness absence is impacting business productivity. Improvising your processes can support a reduction in days lost.

How is sickness absence impacting your businesses productivity? Reach out to our team of HR Consultants to discuss your current sickness absence practices.