Managing absence with MI: the partnership approach

Lizzie Buxton

Written By AdviserPlus

30th July 2019

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We recently hosted a webinar discussing how we went about helping one NHS trust reduce its absence levels – and how the ongoing programme has been designed to boost confidence, capability and loyalty among employees.

Often when we discuss organisations struggling to deal with workforce concerns like absence, it’s fundamentally down to a lack of actionable insight.

In the NHS, there’s no lack of data. In fact, it’s awash with all sorts of data from workforce statistics to performance levels – but that doesn’t mean it’s effectively telling the story of the trends and problems that HR are actually having to deal with.

In our latest webinar, we discuss this issue with Suzanne Dunkley, Executive Director of Workforce and Organisational Development at Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust (CHFT) and our own Gemma Kelly, AdviserPlus’ Analytics Team Manager. The Trust was struggling with high – and increasing – levels of both short and long term absence, which was having a knock-on effect on the Trust’s efficiency.

You can watch the webinar here, or read on for a whistle-stop recap of the story and a breakdown of how we worked with CHFT to make a real difference in employee absence levels.

Statistics don’t always tell the whole story

When Suzanne joined CHFT, it was dealing with a 4.79% absence rate. But what exactly did that mean?

It wasn’t clear to anyone. The HR team at the Trust knew there were trends in their absence data – such as higher rates among certain staffing groups – but it needed crystallising to help Suzanne turn this knowledge into action. So, the first step was to turn those numbers into something that was more meaningful, both for the members of the Trust’s board and for the workforce themselves.

Understanding the employee relations landscape

When AdviserPlus was brought into the project, the foundational task was to examine how the current HR situation was working – and what wasn’t working, too.

That led to the team identify seven focus areas of the Trust’s ER landscape:

  • The higher rate of long-term absence among part-time workers
  • The higher rate of long-term absence among lower band medical workers
  • The spread of short-term absence duration
  • Whether often-absent employees were more likely to leave the Trust
  • How return to work processes affect absence duration
  • Whether Occupational Health involvement reduces absence duration
  • How mental health contributes to absenteeism

The team then designed a programme that was aimed at improving line manager confidence – allowing them to have more productive conversations with their people – and boosting loyalty among the workforce.

Making a difference

Initially, Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust was seeing 16 days lost to absence per person, per year. That’s a significant number, which has already been reduced to 14 days in just 18 months of the new programme in partnership with AdviserPlus.

The team now focuses on improving key factors in the HR space, including:

  • Encouraging line managers to have open discussions with employees
  • Offering more flexible working patterns
  • Improving compliance with return to work protocols

The team at the Trust is also systematically working through AdviserPlus’ recommendations to improve other areas of HR, such as performance, recruitment, and essential training.

Learn more about the partnership

To find out how Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust worked with AdviserPlus to bring down its absence levels – and how its ongoing strategy is continuing to improve line manager capability and confidence, watch our webinar.

management information to manage absence


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