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The benefits of having a healthy absence management system

Published 25 February 2019

Successfully managing employee sickness absence can help to cure a lot of serious problems that any businesses may face.

Having the right processes in place to track absence trends can assist in identifying any potential financial loss and disruption to the service provided.

An employer’s ability to successfully manage workplace absence has shown healthy signs of improvement in recent years.

The latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures from 2017 show sickness absence is at its lowest rate on record. It is good news for both employees and the economy (1)

The figures revealed the average number of sickness absence days that UK workers take has almost halved since records began in 1993. Employees took an average of 4.1 sickness absence days in 2017, compared with 7.2 days in 1993, but sickness absence started to fall overall from 1999.

Previous research by Centre of Economic and Business Research found that workplace absence was costing the UK economy £18bn in lost productivity.

It predicted that the cost of absence will increase to £21bn in 2020, and increase to £26bn in 2030 (2

For an employer the cost of employee absence can be incurred in paying sick pay, covering overtime of being forced to find temporary cover for a role. Other damaging effects can include: low staff morale and increased resentment amongst staff, forced to pick up a frequently absent colleagues workload; knowledge gaps that can result in poor customer service; and decreased productivity.

or organisations therefore it is vital to have a good absence management system in place that can manage absenteeism, detect trends and enable it to take decisive action.

Such a policy should outline what is expected of staff in terms of notifying the employer of an absence, contact requirements during that period, the details needed to support the absence, what to expect from the employer and what can happen if an employee breaches the policy (i.e. disciplinary action being taken or loss of sick pay).

The Bradford Factor (3) is a popular system used to track absence rates. It is based on the theory that short, frequent, unplanned absences are more disruptive to organisations than longer absences.

The system may not be suitable for all employers, and it does have its critics. Complaints include, that it removes the human element from the process, takes little account of what is happening to an individual’s health and is used to identify problems that can leave employees feeling threatened and fearing disciplinary action.

When the Bradford Factor is used along with proper management supervision and fair investigation of the reasons for absenteeism, it can provide a valuable insight into levels of absence that can help in making reasonable judgements of any transgression.

Using an established and recognised system to manage attendance will help to ensure employees are treated fairly and consistently. It will make sure managers and staff know exactly what to expect during the absence process.

Effective absence management tools that will benefit employers and enhance staff well-being can include:

  • Monitoring: to help an organisation to gain a clear understanding of any situation that it needs to address.
  • Return to work interviews: to help detect any fundamental health issues and identify any support required and also help deter non genuine absences.
  • Flexible working: Failing to have a good work/life balance can be detrimental to an employee’s health and well-being. A provision for flexible working can help to cut the risk of people developing stress-related issues.
  • Training: Can help employees and managers identify and cope with stress, mental health problems and other wellbeing issues. Mental ill-health, including stress, depression and anxiety, is thought to be responsible for 91 million lost working days each year, more than for any other illness (4)   

A good absence management procedure is vital in looking after employees and an organisation as a whole. ACAS has produced a step-by-step guide to help employers to do so (5)

By dynamically managing staff absence, employers can reduce sickness absence and cost implications for their business.


1.ONS absence figures from 2017 [Internet] [cited 25.2.19]

2.Absence costs [Internet] [cited 25.2.19]

3.Bradford Factor [Internet] [cited 25.2.19]

4.91 million lost working days to mental ill-health [Internet] [cited 25.2.19]

5.Good absence management procedure [Internet] [cited 25.25.19]

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For free employment law advice or if you are affected or want information and support by any of the issues in this article please give us a call. 0333 772 0611

A reputation built on success

For employment law advice or if you are affected or want information and support by any of the issues in this article please give us a call. 


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