Effective absence management measures

Improving return-to-work interviews is the single most effective absence management measure, according to a recent survey by Personnel Today‘s sister organisation, pay specialist IRS.

The survey of 149 employers – covering a combined workforce of almost 700,000 people – found that improving the way in which they were conducted and the matters discussed within them was ranked as the most effective absence management initiative measure. This was followed by improving line managers’ buy-in to taking an active role in absence management, and introducing a new or revised absence policy.

The most successful initiatives were found to consist of a range of interconnected measures. The best had 30% more measures than others, with the typical initiative using 12.8. However, the four most common measures were:



  • Introducing a new absence management policy
  • Improving absence record keeping
  • Making greater efforts to obtain line managers’ buy-in
  • Providing line managers with absence statistics.

Other factors associated with success included:



  • Setting one or more corporate absence targets; and
  • Improving access to an existing occupational health service.

The findings also showed that absence rates actually appear to increase immediately after the implementation of an absence management initiative, due to improvements in record-keeping. Three-quarters (74.5%) of respondents had taken steps to improve their record keeping. This leads to more accurate records of employees’ absences, including instances that may have previously gone unrecorded.

More than three-quarters of the organisations surveyed had put measures in place to tackle four key areas of absence management:



  • Introducing a new or revised absence management policy
  • Improving absence record-keeping systems
  • Making greater efforts to gain line manager buy-in to absence management – especially in taking a greater role in operating their organisations’ absence systems and procedures; and
  • Providing facts and figures on absence to line managers.

In addition, more than two-thirds had either introduced or made changes to absence threshold triggers, which identify one or more points at which a formal review of the employee’s absence history is conducted. There are typically two thresholds: one referring to short-term absences, expressed in terms of the number of absences. The other covers long-term absences, expressed in terms of the total number of days absent.

The average and median reduction in absence rates after the implementation of such initiatives was 25%. Half of the employers in the survey gained reductions of between 10.2% and 43.4%.

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