Record keeping hampers efforts to manage sickness absence

The ability of employers to manage absence is still being severely hampered by ineffective record-keeping systems, according to research carried out by Occupational Health’s sister publication IRS Employment Review.

The survey of 195 employers – which between them had a combined workforce of almost 900,000 employees – found more than a fifth reported problems with recording absences.

Without accurate absence statistics, employers were unable to know whether or not they had an attendance problem, where any problems were or what their nature was and, most important of all, where action was most required, the publication pointed out.

What’s more, the failure of an organisation to tackle an issue as fundamental as the reporting and recording of absences would simply send a signal to its workforce that they need not treat absence as a serious matter, it added.

One of the key difficulties identified by the research was a continuing unwillingness or inability among line managers to manage absences in accordance with organisational policy and procedures, cited as the single biggest hindrance by 40% of the employers polled.

Another central problem was employers investing in record systems that were inflexible, slow or not fit for purpose.

At a more practical level, absences in many instances were still being reported late, reported or recorded incompletely or not reported at all, while policies and procedures were regularly being flouted or subverted.

There were also often inconsistencies within and between different departments, businesses and locations in terms of absence reporting and recording, it found.

This often undermined the accuracy of any overall corporate absence statistics, it concluded.

The research also suggested that it should be HR that takes a lead role in co-ordinating and overseeing this data collection and collation activity.

While there was clearly an onus on employees to provide details of their absence, its cause, likely duration and possible treatment, as well its impact as any urgent or short-term work in train, overall it needed to be HR that led on this issue.

“Although HR may not necessarily welcome this duty, there are indications from our study that absence reporting and recording tends to operate more effectively when HR staff are put in charge of these procedures,” it argued.

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