People are the heart of every company. Even the biggest business can’t function without its employees. Nevertheless, we all need time off now and then. Indeed, Office for National Statistics (ONS) data reveals that a staggering 185 million working days were lost in the U.K. in 2022 due to sickness or injury.

That’s bad news for business productivity — but absence management can help. By better understanding your employees and the underlying causes of absences, you can create a supportive work environment for everyone. Let’s find out how absence management can benefit your company.

As you might expect, absence management involves managing employee absences. It covers a wide range of activities — from recording and monitoring absences to drawing up policies and implementing leave procedures. However, the ultimate goal of absence management is to ensure a healthy work environment that encourages productivity and employee well-being.

The importance of absence management

Modern workplaces are complex and many companies struggle to keep track of comings and goings. However, accurately recording absences and taking proactive measures to support employees can have a big impact on the workplace.

NHS England, for example, saw its sickness absence rate drop from 3.6 to 2.9 percent after implementing an absence management process. Improved visibility of absence data allowed them to implement a comprehensive absence management policy, introduce training for managers and centralise employee relations services.

Absence management also affects many different aspects of an organisation, including:

  1. Operational efficiency
    Employee absences can disrupt workflows, strain resources and reduce productivity. However, absence management can help minimise the impact of absences on day-to-day activities to keep everything running smoothly.
  2. Workplace morale
    Frequent absences can negatively impact other employees, e.g. when picking up the slack for missing employees. This extra work can quickly lead to extra stress and ultimately a decline in both workplace morale and performance. Managing absences effectively, however, can help you distribute work fairly and maintain a positive working environment.
  3. Health and well-being
    Absence management isn’t just about reducing absenteeism. It's also about promoting employee health and well-being. By understanding why people are taking time off, you can implement policies and initiatives that support your employees, such as wellness programmes, flexible working arrangements and mental health resources.
  4. Legal compliance
    There are a whole host of laws and regulations relating to employee absences, including sick leave, maternity leave and disability accommodations. Managing absences effectively helps your business comply with these legal requirements, avoiding potential lawsuits and costly fines.

Policies and procedures for managing employee absences

Clearly defined policies and procedures are vital when it comes to managing absence. Detailed policies not only set out exactly how your company handles absences but they also serve as a guide for both managers and employees. Here are four must-haves for any absence policy:

Types of absences

A comprehensive absence policy should cover all the reasons an employee might miss work. Here are some of the most common:

  1. Sick leave
  2. Statutory sick pay (SSP)
  3. Annual leave
  4. Maternity leave
  5. Paternity leave
  6. Career breaks
  7. Bereavement leave
  8. Unpaid carer’s leave
  9. Unpaid parental leave
  10. Time off for family and dependants
  11. Time off for public duties
  12. Training and study
  13. Travel disruption
  14. Suspensions from work for medical reasons
  15. Disability leave

Please bear in mind that disability-related absences should be managed separately from sickness management. What’s more, your policy should also be inclusive, covering all employees regardless of their employment status (full-time, part-time, contract, etc.).

Reporting procedures

Your policy should clearly outline how absences are reported. Every employee should know who they need to notify if they are not able to attend work (e.g. their line manager or your HR department), when they need to report absences (e.g. as soon as possible or 24 hours before) and how to report absences (e.g. via phone or email).

Leave approval process

We all need time to kick back, relax and recharge. But requesting leave can be frustrating if the process is slow and opaque. Make sure your absence policy clearly explains the approval process, including how requests are evaluated, who is responsible for approving leave and how long the process takes. Remember: transparency helps build trust and ensures that everyone is on the same page.

Return-to-work procedures

Your policy should also outline the procedures for returning to work after an absence. Depending on the circumstances, employees may be required to provide documentation (e.g. fit notes) or they may need some extra support (e.g. a phased return). Make sure to explain everything in detail, as returning to the office can be intimidating or even confusing — especially after a long-term absence.

Developing an absence management process

Absence management is an ongoing process that includes a range of activities. Here are the key steps in developing an absence management process:

Tracking and monitoring absences

It might sound obvious but tracking and monitoring absences is the foundation of any absence management process. Keeping records of when employees miss work, including the reasons and length of absence, can help you spot trends, pinpoint issues and guide policy changes.

Many companies track absences manually but this is time-consuming and prone to errors. Moreover, it can even become overwhelming at times, such as during the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s why we recommend automating the process. This not only saves time and resources but also increases accuracy and provides valuable insights.

Creating and enforcing absence policies

Once you have a clear understanding of absences within your company, the next step is to create absence policies. Start by looking at the insights gained from tracking absences and consider how best to address any issues identified. Make sure that your policies are clear, easy to understand and made available to all employees. It’s also a good idea to review and update them regularly to iron out any kinks.

Don’t forget that enforcing your absence policies is just as important as creating them. This might involve conducting return-to-work interviews or taking disciplinary action in more serious cases. Although enforcement can be difficult, it’s vital to ensure policies are effective.

Managing and approving leave requests

No absence management process is complete without managing leave requests. This involves setting up a system to handle requests, determining eligibility and approving or denying requests based on your company’s policies and the employee’s circumstances.

Much like tracking absences, you can automate this process with absence management software to make sure it’s fair, consistent and transparent. This is vital as even the happiest employees can quickly become disgruntled if wrongly denied leave.

Providing support for returning employees

Your absence management process should also have provisions that support employees returning to work after an absence. Whether it’s a day, week or several months, proper support can help employees pick up from where they left off.

This typically involves holding meetings for anyone returning to work after a short-term absence. As the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) points out, however, you may need to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ under the Equality Act 2010 to support employees with disabilities or health conditions. Keep in mind that managing absences is ultimately about striking a balance between the needs of your business and the well-being of your employees.

How absence management software can help

Absence management software can help reduce some of the burden on your admin team and HR department by automating tasks like absence tracking and leave management. Here are five great reasons to implement absence management software in your company:

  • More time: free up your HR professionals to focus on other tasks
  • Improved accuracy: increase consistency and reduce the risk of errors
  • Better decisions: analyse data to monitor trends and identify issues
  • Happier employees: increase transparency with self-service options
  • Compliant: reduce risk by automating leave calculations and audit reports.

ADP makes absence management easy

With the right absence management software, you can support your teams, drive productivity and protect your company from potential legal issues. Whether you’re starting from scratch or refining existing practices, ADP provides leading absence management software to help everyone in your company prosper.

From automatically tracking and recording absences to generating comprehensive reports for valuable insights, our absence management software has everything you need to take your absence management process to the next level. Get started today.