Absenteeism in the workplace concept cartoon with a manager standing in front of a large monitor with employees' faces on the icons and some employees are absent.
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How to prevent absenteeism at work

15 Jan 2024

Last year, a study found that absenteeism was on the rise in Irish workplaces. Here is what employers can do to prevent the problem.

They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder, but this definitely does not apply to the workplace. Absenteeism can create a lot of problems not just for companies’ bottom lines but also for colleagues of repeat offenders.

Absenteeism refers, of course, to consistent and lengthy periods of time away from one’s workplace. It is completely different from planned out-of-office periods, planned time off and sick leave.

Unexplained absences are disruptive and unfair. But what can employers do about them? If they come down on workers who pull fast ones too strictly they risk invoking the ire of other workers and possibly even making a blunder if an employee genuinely did have a reason for being absent but forgot to disclose it. (Emergencies happen too, and workers might in some cases react without telling their boss.)

On the other hand, employers who don’t nip absenteeism in the bud run the risk of setting a precedent and the problem getting out of hand. Also, an absentee offender’s colleagues can become resentful – especially if they are the ones picking up the slack.

Either way, employers have to deal with absenteeism – as well as the underlying causes. Law firm Weightmans has some advice for managers who need it.

Keep tabs on employee wellbeing

Employees feeling overwhelmed, stressed and sick is a huge contributor to workplace absenteeism. From an employer’s point of view, absences are hugely frustrating but it can help to come at things from a worker’s perspective.

“The pressures of the cost of living and stress means that the mental health of many employees has suffered and workplace absences have increased,” says Ben Daniel, partner and head of EPI at Weightmans.

Last year, a report by Munster Technological University and University College Cork found that employee absenteeism was on the rise in Ireland. The report recommended that employers invest more in mental health and wellbeing supports to encourage workers to be more open.

“Putting measures in place to reduce stress and improve the mental health of your employees will have long-term positive effects in increasing workplace attendance and staff retention,” agrees Daniel. “There are many steps you can take as an employer to manage absence, both preventative and after the fact.”

Value employees

Weightmans advises that employees may be more inclined to take sick leave if they feel undervalued. They might feel as though their work is not important so it doesn’t really matter if they are there or not.

To ensure employees aren’t treating the job as optional, employers need to remind them that their contributions are valuable. It’s a simple thing really, and it doesn’t require a massive budget – just a bit of gratitude.

Record sick leave and keep in touch with absent employees

Always keep accurate records of employees’ sick leave because any efforts that workplaces take to make sure absences are reduced will be undermined without data.

Weightmans notes that it is important for managers to be mindful of GDPR rules when holding on to data.

Conduct return-to-work interviews

Once an absent employee has returned to work, a return-to-work interview should be conducted by their line manager or supervisor as soon as possible.

This is to send a message that they were missed and their absence is not taken as a trivial matter. Weightmans advises that these chats are “one of the most important and successful tools in managing attendance”.

They should be informal in tone; they aren’t intended to be inquisitions, they’re more like wellbeing check-ins.

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Blathnaid O’Dea
By Blathnaid O’Dea

Blathnaid O’Dea joined Silicon Republic in 2021 as Careers reporter, coming from a background in the Humanities. She likes people, pranking, pictures of puffins – and apparently alliteration.

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