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Absence Management

managing absenceAbsence Management – practical steps you can take

Part 2 of our series on Managing Absence. View Part 1 here


The world of work has changed significantly.

The nature of employment related absence has altered with the decline of heavy industry, we work longer and there is an increasing recognition of mental health as a discrete factor in absence.

There are three main areas where a recognition of these factors can lead to improved absence management outcomes

  • Flexibility of working patterns
  • Recording keeping and the management of return to work
  • Training

Flexibility of working patterns

Flexibility and part time working have increased as have the use of zero hours contracts. It is important to recognise that these working patterns do suit a large number of people and in the case of large employers suit an organisation that is seeking to retain specific and expensive skills.

Some people may have significant care responsibilities or a desire not to be tied to a single source of employment. There is no point in pretending that this is always easy to manage and that it does not have an impact. However, where flexibility is introduced and well managed it can prove fruitful for companies seeking to retain a highly trained skill set.

Record Keeping

Effective data management is crucial in absence management, if you do not have accurate records of time taken for both authorised and unauthorised absence you cannot manage people properly both in terms of their performance and the impact that the absence has in placing pressure on other employees and the business.  The old adage “if you measure it you can manage it” is true here, although conversations about absence need to be undertaken sensitively and professionally.  If it’s done badly it can demotivate employees with genuine absence reasons.


It is important that first line managers have the skills and understanding of how to manage absence as they would any other part of an employees working standard and that they are supported by appropriate HR and medical advice. This is true in all cases, but particularly so when dealing with mental health issues where line managers can be understandably nervous when trying to understand how and where to intervene.

Some businesses now manage absence through medical professionals, nurses who help to manage employees return to work in conjunction with the line manager or Occupational Health Advisors who can examine working styles and patterns and their impact on employees and the business.

The other area is training not only to prevent accident and injury at work but also looking at Health & Wellbeing programmes that can help improve fitness and stress levels;  major contributors to illness in the modern world.

The training of managers about the importance of absence management is important; how to recognise patterns of absence and an understanding of how and when to seek advice. While many first line managers are competent in this part of their role, others are reluctant to grasp this issue and need to clearly understand that they are supported and have access to good advice.

There is no mystique to absence management, it has a set of skills and rules like any other aspect of business.  Bringing it into management focus will bring benefits to the employee, the manager and the business.