Solving absenteeism in the office

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As it's reported workplace absences are at an all-time high, with employees taking on average 7.8 sick days per year, now more than ever it is important that employers are prioritising the health and wellbeing of their employees!

With this in mind, employment Law experts at Weightmans have provided guidance and advice on how employers can enhance the health and wellbeing of their employees to increase staff retention, along with how employers can generally manage attendance, in a time when absenteeism is high.


Whether an employer or an employee - absenteeism is a stressful situation to be involved in. Whether an employee is off for a day or a week this absence is guaranteed to put pressure not only on the employee's workload but the team and the wider management. While absences are expected - with growing rates of absence reported in 2023, employers need to be able to spot the signs and take action early on. 

The main causes of workplace absence are: 

  • Minor Illness - 94%
  • Mental Health Issues - 39%
  • Stress - 76%
  • Management issues - 37%

The Wider Impact

The wider impact of absenteeism can be great, damaging not only the individuals involved but wider team productivity, morale and financial implications. High levels of absence can cause:

  • Decreased productivity: team members have to cover work, deadlines pushed and meetings rescheduled. 
  • Low-quality work and deliverables: team members taking on more work than they have the capacity for, rushing jobs and feeling overwhelmed.
  • Negative culture: Stressed by overloaded workloads, lack of teamwork and overwhelmed management.
  • Demotivation: Missed deadlines, and negative client relationships. 
  • Financial loss: The average cost of employee absence per year, per employee, is £522. However poor quality of work can have a knock-on effect on client retention, impacting businesses financially on a higher level. 

The alarming rise in sickness absence rates underscores the importance of fostering a workplace culture that prioritises employee health and wellbeing, amongst other objectives.

Guidance and Advice for Employers on Workplace Absences

Work with employees to maintain and improve their mental health - As has been stated, stress can be a huge factor in contributing to employee absences, therefore, it’s important employers consider the mental health of their employees and put measures in place to improve this.

Ensure employees feel valued, and that they have clear direction and understand the importance of their job - Employees may be more inclined to take sick leave if they feel their job is unimportant and they’re undervalued. Along with this, if they feel undervalued, they may not understand the impact taking sick leave has on the business. Therefore, to ensure employees are not taking sick leave when it’s not necessary, making sure they feel valued and appreciated in their role is crucial. Explaining the pressures which the business faces, and emphasising the part that individuals play in helping to address those pressures through the jobs they perform, can be very helpful.

Accurately record sickness and keep in touch with absent employees - It is surprising how many employers fail to maintain accurate sick absence records. Without these, any attempt to reduce sickness absence will be undermined. Managers therefore need to ensure that they have accurately captured all forms of absence and the reasons for them (bearing in mind possible restrictions to holding sensitive personal data under the General Data Protection Regulation — GDPR).

Conduct return-to-work interviews - Once the employee has returned to work, a return-to-work interview should be conducted by their line manager or supervisor as soon as possible. Any undue delay will send a signal that neither the sickness absence, nor the employee’s return to work, is seen as important. These meetings are one of the most important and successful tools in managing attendance. They are vital for a manager in building up trust with an employee, so that the employee can discuss any underlying issues that may be contributing to the sickness absence. The tone of the meeting should be sympathetic, and the questions should not indicate any doubt regarding the authenticity of the illness. 

Ben Daniel, Partner and head of EPI at Weightmans has commented on employee absences:

“The pressures of the cost of living and stress means that the mental health of many employees has suffered and workplace absences have increased. There are many steps you can take as an employer to manage absence, both preventative and after the fact. Firstly, putting measures in place to reduce stress and improve the mental health of your employees will have long-term positive effects in increasing workplace attendance and staff retention. Furthermore, finding ways to enhance your workplace flexibility may also help with the negative impact that the cost of living has on your employees. Finally, ensuring you’re completing all the proper procedures such as accurately recording sickness and conducting return to work interviews ensures there is a thorough process in place to help support attempts to manage and reduce sickness in the workplace”.

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