Sick Of Sicknotes? Here’s How To Deal With Absenteeism

March 7, 2013

One of the greatest challenges for supervisors and managers is how to deal with absenteeism through sickness. If you come down too hard you can lose the goodwill of the majority of people who are conscientious about their work. You may even help the spread of germs and sickness by making people come in when they are genuinely sick. On the other hand if you rarely challenge sickness, people being people will take advantage and let you down.

The most obvious steps involve making sure rules, policies and procedures are clear, regularly communicated and applied. Keeping accurate records of the ‘facts’ will protect everybody if you need to follow a disciplinary route later.

In this article however we will concentrate on the ‘back to work’ interview you have with your employee following the sickness. This interview is widely agreed to one of the most effective techniques for keeping absenteeism to a minimum. Apart from the initial ‘lie’ when employees falsely call in sick, most people dread facing their line manager afterwards and having to lie again!

Here are some top tips for the ‘back to work’ interview.

Treat It Seriously

If you are determined to keep control of absenteeism in your team, then you will need to be consistent about applying this ‘back to work’ interview. Remember this interview is aimed at being a deterrent as much as it is to keep accurate records.

This means being resolute and holding this meeting as soon as the employee has returned to work and definitely within 24 hours. If you are unable to meet face-to-face, are you able to set up a video conversation, which is much easier with current technology? This gives you the opportunity to observe body language which may tell you more! Otherwise you will have to listen carefully to their tone of voice and any inconsistencies with what they are saying. Always ensure that you follow up with a face to face meeting as soon as you can.

It is also important to check how people are coping. They may be afraid to ask for help as they it could be seen as a weakness. As a manager you need to know before things go wrong. In some cases it is worth checking how your employee is prioritising work. It may be that you or they have under estimated how long a task may take. It will probably be easier for you to solve a situation just be looking at it from the outside. It may also be that the person is not finding the role interesting enough and may be bored. Is there anything you can do to share some of your own workload whilst developing them at the same time?

Give Them The Benefit Of The Doubt

We said earlier that the majority of people are usually conscientious and may resent it if you automatically assume they are lying about being off sick. Showing genuine concern about their health is more likely to encourage loyalty in the future. It is also part of your role to make sure they are fit for work. If they are not then you have a duty to send them home until they are fully fit encouraging them to see a doctor where necessary.

An Opportunity To Talk Rather Than A Punishment

This interview should never be a punishment. Sometimes as managers we get so focused on the task in hand that we don’t find the time to talk and communicate properly with people who work for us. People are usually happy to talk about their favourite subject; themselves! Ask them to talk about their personal situation before asking them about their workload.

Many people can be reluctant to volunteer that they may be having problems at home. The trick here is to encourage them to talk generally about home life rather than ask the question, “Do you have any problems at home?” This can sound very false and almost like you feel you have to, but really dread people saying’ “Yes” and having to deal with it. Whilst it may not be your direct responsibility to solve people’s problems you do need to be aware that it could have an impact on their effectiveness. Depending upon your counselling skills you may be able to help them find their own solutions. Otherwise you will need to follow company policy or help them find outside help.

Look For Opportunities For Flexible Working Arrangements

With the trend of both parents working full time and an increasing number of single parents who work, there is always a possibility that childcare arrangements may cause challenges. Company IT infrastructures now make it a great deal easier for people to work from home. This also means that in situations where people are full of germs but otherwise generally okay to work, they may be able to stay at home rather than spread the germs around the office.

Working hours that are flexible may well suit some people, especially where partners work shifts. Job shares are also other ways to help people avoid unnecessary absenteeism.

Follow Up

Always follow up to check how the person is doing on both personal and work fronts. This goes to demonstrate that you care and this can be a huge boost to motivation and general loyalty.

So in summary, keep your procedures tight and always see them through so that people see that you are on top of it and that they will always be challenged. Use the ‘back to work’ interview as an opportunity to know what is going on personally and in terms of capability and NOT be seen as a punishment.

If you are having problems with absenteeism and want some help, please give us a call to see how we can help you increase loyalty and productivity.

Many thanks

Scott Rumsey

Senior Management Trainer & Consultant at MTD Training

(Image by Avital Pinnick at

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