Managing sickness absence in 2022: 4 things HR must do

Lizzie Buxton

Written By Susan McLaren, Business Development Director, AdviserPlus

9th February 2021

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HR leaders consistently place effective sickness absence management and employee wellbeing in their top three strategic objectives because, put simply, an unhealthy workforce is an unhealthy business.

Don’t just take our word for it. The CIPD’s Health and Wellbeing Report 2020 signposts three key health and wellbeing objectives on which HR need to focus:

  • Build mentally healthy workplaces based on prevention
  • Invest in managers to boost employee wellbeing
  • Make more of Occupational Health

The report further states there is ‘a stubborn gap between the expectation that’s placed on managers to manage attendance on a day-to-day basis and the investment employers make in ensuring they’re trained and supported in the role.’

How do we recommend you tackle sickness absence?

There is no single intervention that will resolve sickness absence in your organisation but, in our experience, if you do the following, you will go a long way to mitigating its impact on your business performance.

1. Have a clear sickness absence policy, which is:

  • Structured, uncomplicated and jargon-free, written in a language managers and employees will understand
  • Supported by clear process and procedure, with supporting documents such as letter templates, manager and employee guides available
  • Reviewed regularly to ensure the policy remains relevant and aligned with best practice.

2. Drive adherence to that policy, ensuring that:

  • Sickness absence is recorded accurately and promptly
  • Appropriate contact is made with the employee during the absence
  • Processes, such as conducting return to work interviews, are followed strictly.

3. Encourage early manager intervention. Intervening early:

  • Is more likely to surface any underlying conditions or causes for the absence
  • Is proven to reduce the likelihood of prolonged absence
  • Makes the employee aware that they are both supported and monitored during their absence.

4. Apply attendance triggers and manage their consequences effectively. Key to driving down company-wide sickness absence is:

  • Targeting those repeat offenders who contribute disproportionately to the company average
  • Consistently following formal process when attendance triggers are hit, not ‘turning a blind eye’
  • Equipping your managers to follow through on formal process, including issuing sanctions where appropriate.

Take the complexity out of the absence management process

Our empower® case management solution can simplify absence management processes and make them easy for line managers to take greater ownership. Configured in line with your own policies, processes and procedures, the solution translates processes into clear, step-by-step guided journeys, building manager capability and confidence.

How does the empower® solution work in practice?

empower® is delivered through three connected components:

Technology – enabling managers and HR to manage sickness absence effectively

People – staging people intervention at the right time, whether your own HR team or ours

Analytics – delivering actionable people insight to inform your decisions

It works like this:

  1. The line manager records the absence in your company HR platform as normal
  2. A feed of data informs the empower® technology platform
  3. Based on our agreed configuration, empower® creates or updates a case, and then:
    • Drives timely line manager action and intervention, such as keeping in touch, generating letter correspondence, arranging meetings or conducting Return to Work interviews
    • Prompts the appropriate Occupational Health intervention
    • Escalates up the line or into HR in the event of inactivity
    • Enables HR case advisers to seamlessly pick up the case where manager support is required
    • Tracks a comprehensive audit trail of all actions, decisions and supporting documents
    • Provides full dashboard visibility of the absence management landscape
  4. Matters are concluded where:
    • All process actions are complete
    • The employee has returned to work or has been effectively managed through formal process
  5. All interactions are captured and lifted up into powerful management information to paint a clear picture of sickness absence in your business and can be used inform your decision-making

empower® provides line manager ownership and support for ER case management across a broader policy set, including disciplinary, capability, grievance and flexible working.

Take a look at our brochure for further information.

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