Performance IssuesPerformance ManagementTerms of employment

Minimising Staff Absence – The Manager’s Choice

The first step in addressing staff absence issues is to gather the facts. That may seem obvious but in practice managers seem uncomfortable with holding a detailed discussion with the individual. The result is that referrals are made to occupational health departments with poor information and without having first considered other options. A discussion will help you to see the way forward.

Assess the individual’s understanding

An informal discussion will give you the opportunity to assess what the individual understands about his medical issues and his progress towards returning to work. The approach will differ slightly when dealing with long term v medium term illness. Explore the following as relevant:

  • What is the cause of the current or latest absence?
  • How many incidences of absence and number of days have occurred over the last three years?
  • If there are multiple incidences, are they of a similar nature?
  • Has the individual received a diagnosis and/or treatment via his GP?
  • Is specialist treatment being received?
  • Is the individual required to take medication and if so does that have any adverse effect on work duties?
  • Does the individual feel that he is making progress? If so, on what basis?
  • Has the individual any idea of when he will be fit to resume work – even if on limited duties and/or hours to start with?
  • Are there any particular matters that tend to trigger the ill-health or make it worse? Are those more commonly inside or outside of work?
  • Is the individual aware of any personal behavioural issues at work? (Have his managers noticed any such issues and if so what and when?)

Consider the options

From the discussion, you should soon become clear about the nature of the absence and discern whether there are certain actions the school can take to:

  • help reduce absence and
  • help the individual to return to work in the short term.

Explore whether the individual feels that he could undertake certain aspects of the role in the short term and then take on further aspects at a later date. Could some duties be performed at home if travel is an issue for a short while? Suggest to the individual that he discusses those options with his GP so that his medical adviser is involved and can give any views as to what activities should be encouraged and those to be limited.

Academies should consider including clauses in their contractual terms so that an individual may be required to undertake alternative duties and/or work at home for a temporary period if the GP or occupational health agrees that should be encouraged. Such contractual clauses may be the subject of a future article. This may help an individual to get back into the pace of work and also reduce partly the adverse effect of sickness absence.

Referral to an Occupational Health Adviser

If the discussion does not lend itself to developing options then consider referring the individual to your occupational health adviser. From the discussion, you will have gained useful information to brief the adviser. In making a referral, you should also add any points from the manager’s perspective to help the adviser gain the full picture of:

  • any behavioural issues observed by managers.
  • the nature of the individual’s work duties.
  • the working environment e.g. climbing stairs, lifting medium to heavy loads, types of movement or twisting of the body etc.
  • what options may or may not be practicable in considering easing the individual back into work.
  • any changes to duties and/or working hours that could be made to encourage an early return to work.

Another advantage of a detailed discussion is that you can make sure the individual realises that you will be sharing the information with the adviser. Remember that your Occupational Health Adviser will usually make the individual aware of the points submitted by managers.

The individual may request to see the medical report before it is sent to his employer.

Take the initiative

Take the initiative when addressing absence by discussing in detail the causes of the absence and so on as noted above. That will give you more confidence to consider viable options to help the individual to return to work as soon as medically advisable.

© 2012 HR Management Dimensions Ltd

Source – Headsup HR blog –

Web site: HR Management Dimensions

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