Last Updated on September 5, 2020

You might be wondering what you can do as a company or human resources department to reduce the amount of time that your staff takes off work absent? In this post, I will explain some techniques for how to manage and reduce absenteeism in the workplace.

Absenteeism vs Presenteeism

Before proceeding, just in case you are unfamiliar with the term ‘Presenteeism’, let us very quickly look at the difference between Absenteeism vs Presenteeism.

Absenteeism is  ‘An employee’s habitual, frequent absence‘.

Presenteeism, on the other hand, refers to the practice of coming to work despite illness or injury, thus reducing productivity.

Both presenteeism and absenteeism have positive and negative traits and both need to be considered and tackled.

The key is to encourage positive staff presenteeism and positive absenteeism and reduce negative presenteeism and negative absenteeism.

Areas of Absence Management Explained

In addressing negative absenteeism and presenteeism, there are 5 areas that a company needs to tackle. So let’s take a look at each of these 5 areas

1. The Physical Work Environment

Improving the physical work environment should limit the number of accidents, work-related health hazards, and the spread of diseases. To achieve this you can:

Run health and safety audits and provide training for staff on health and safety

Depending on the type of work that your company or business does, there may be different types of hazards that you need to be aware of, such as ergonomic, chemical, or biological hazards.

With ergonomic hazards, for example, a workstation that does not allow the worker to keep a good posture while working could cause chronic backache, and this, in turn, might lead to sickness absences.

Chemical and biological hazards of course are much more extreme and one would hope that you already have safety practices in place for these.

Take care of the workplace physical infrastructure

You also need to provide a good workplace physical infrastructure such as:

  • good lighting to avoid eye-straining
  • make sure the noise is not overwhelming, to avoid stress
  • make sure that the temperature is not too hot nor too cold and that employees have access to drinking water, to keep healthy overall.

Also, you need to provide access and other reasonable adjustments for people with disabilities. This is particularly important to encourage positive presenteeism (i.e the ability of people with disabilities or chronic health conditions to attend work if offered adequate support).

Put in place practices to curb the spread of infectious diseases

This has become a more relevant issue in recent years with the Covid virus.

So, for example, make sure that the workplace is kept clean and provide facilities for employees to wash their hands.

Action: If you do not already do regular safety audits, create a checklist that can be used regularly (quarterly but depending on the size of your company) to evaluate for each employee’s workstation for ergonomic checks, the physical working environment, and the physical environment overall.

If staff work from home, then you can provide them with a checklist and with advice and guidance (and a bursary if appropriate to implement any changes needed).

2. Psychological Work Environment

Improving the psychological work environment in the workplace is particularly important to improve employees’ engagement and motivation. Lack of engagement is one of the most common causes of absenteeism.

Also, having a healthy psychological environment is important to prevent stress, support people with mental illnesses, and limit negative presenteeism (as people will not feel threatened if they admit to being ill).

If you identify a bad psychological environment as a source of absenteeism, consider implementing mechanisms for employees to raise their concerns. This could range from a simple open-door policy to a grievance system.

Action: To improve the psychological environment in your company, address the following issues:

Excessive demands

It is important to be realistic regarding what your employees can achieve.

Setting SMART goals and holding regular one-to-one meetings between line managers and employees should help establish and manage clear and realistic expectations.

Lack of control and autonomy

Every employee, even at the most junior level, needs to feel that they have some say on the tasks that they are required to carry out.

They need to be trusted and given a certain level of responsibility and authority, even if proportionate to their level of seniority.

Lack of appreciation

Make sure that your employees feel appreciated for what they do. You can give rewards to them, but even just saying ‘thank you’ and ‘well done’ can go a long way.

Showing appreciation is one of the easiest things to do as a manager and yet it is so often and so easily forgotten.

Lack of support

To do their job properly, employees need to know that they can get support when needed. Make sure employees are aware of the support structure in your workplace.

Lack of meaning and impact

Meaning refers to a sense of purpose in what a person does; a feeling that what they do has impact and is important for someone.

For this, you can share the company’s vision with your employees at every opportunity, and make sure that their individual goals and the goals of the company as a whole are aligned.

Lack of opportunities for growth

This refers to opportunities for career advancement but also opportunities to learn.

So, provide training for your employees in a variety of topics ranging from soft skills to hard skills for the job they do.

Poor working relationships

This has to do with conflicts between colleagues and/or between managers and their teams. So, have in place mechanisms to deal with conflict management and provide training on the topic for your employees.

Role ambiguity

It can be pretty stressful for an employee to not know exactly what their duties include. So, it is important to set clear goals and expectations, so they know what their role is.

Boredom

Unfortunately, some jobs are boring and repetitive by nature. To avoid your employees getting bored you can provide cross-training and vary their duties now and again when possible, or delegate some projects to them.

Organizational change

Change is sometimes unavoidable and it can cause a lot of stress to employees. So, it is important to manage it carefully by being open and communicating clearly and honestly with your employees.

Unclear communication

Communication is central to promote employee engagement. Good communication is at the base of the development of trust, commitment, and the sharing of values.

Lack of transparency

This is connected with the previous point. Clear communication creates transparency in a company. If an employer is perceived by its workforce as being shifty, this will cause a lack of trust that will lead to a lack of engagement.

Bullying & harassment

Bullying, harassment, and unfair discrimination are very common causes of stress among employees.

Make sure that all employees (managers and team members alike) receive training on bullying & harassment and that they feel comfortable speaking up if they feel they are victims of such behaviors.

3, 4, & 5. Work-life balance, Healthy living, and a clear absence policy

The remaining three areas can be found in the full training materials for the Absence Management trainers pack (see banner below). You might also be interested in the related training activity here.

Absence management training PowerPoint slides and PDFs.
See the Absence management materials if you want the full PowerPoint and PDFs.
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Valeria has been involved with education for over 16 years. She has taught in the UK at the University of Bath and Cardiff Metropolitan University (where she got her PhD), in addition to working as a researcher at Exeter University. Valeria additionally has several years of experience of also working with Ofsted and Cardiff University in management roles.

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