Absence management suffers as line managers steer clear of involvement

Employers’ ability to manage absence is being hampered by ineffective record-keeping systems, according to research by Personnel Today’s sister publication Employment Review.

The survey of 195 employers – covering a combined workforce of almost 900,000 people – showed that one in five (21%) of employers had problems with recording absences.

Difficulties they came up against included:

  • line managers’ unwillingness or inability to manage absence in accordance with the organisation’s policies and procedures
  • absences that were reported late with incomplete details or not reported at all
  • inconsistencies in reporting within the organisation.

But line managers’ lack of effective involvement in absence management was cited as the single biggest cause of organisations’ difficulties by 40% of employers.

Many respondents are trying various methods to rectify these issues. About a quarter of those that were experiencing difficulties related to wider, policy-related issues have revised their corporate absence policy. Training has been used to improve skills and knowledge, and also to win the hearts and minds of managers in a bid to persuade them to take a more active role in managing attendance. And some employers are using the threat of sanctions to drive home the message that absence reporting and recording procedures must be observed.

Reporting factors

When determining arrangements for reporting absence, line managers and HR are expected to consider the nature of the illness or the reason for the absence the likely duration of the absence and details about the medical sickness certificate, such as the length of time they are signed off for.

Almost all employers (94%) ask staff to notify their absence by a particular time on the first working day they are absent, according to the findings. And 44% expect employees to make contact on a daily basis. However, 28% do not have a formal procedure, and leave such arrangements to the discretion of the line managers.

Absence records are most commonly closed through the completion of a return-to-work interview, as is the case among 85% of employers. Absentees are expected to complete a return-to-work form by half of employers.

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