Tips for Managing Staff Absence
With the new year here, and winter well on its way to setting in, the following months typically see higher occasions of staff absence due to sickness. Now is an excellent time to re-visit the strategies you have in place for managing staff absence in order to minimise the impact that this can have.
Absence Reporting Procedure. It is important that all staff understand the expectations of them when reporting their absence.
- Should they be calling a dedicated absence line to report their absence, calling the main school office or contacting their line manager directly?
- Is there a particular time frame during which they should be reporting their absence, for example before 7.30am so that cover arrangements can be made?
- Is the process documented in the staff handbook and absence management policy? Does any follow up happen if an employee doesn’t follow the procedure correctly?
Not only should there be a clear procedure for staff to report their absence, there should also be a set procedure for recording and logging the absence once it has been notified.
- Name of employee
- Start date of absence
- Expected return date of employee
- Reason for absence
Return to Work Processes. Once the staff member has returned to work it is important to have processes in place to follow up on the absence with them.
- Self-certification form – If they have been absent for seven days or less then it is good practice to ask them to complete a Self-certification form to provide details about why they were off, the cause of the absence and the start and end date.
- Fit Note – If they have been absent for over 7 days then a Fit Note should be provided from their GP to explain their absence.
- Return to Work Interviews – RTW interviews are a great means to reconnect with an employee following a period of absence. It is your opportunity to welcome them back to work, check that they are well enough to recommence duties, identify whether there are any appropriate adaptions that need to take place to support their return, show that their absence has not gone unnoticed and, if relevant, discuss their absence history.
Data captured here should be added to the absence record you have created for the individual.
Within schools we tend to have these processes in place as part of our absence management policy, however the consistency with which we monitor this can sometimes be ineffective. The theory is in place, but in practice, the forms are given to the individuals or their line managers but there is no follow up and the return of these forms is patchy. This means the absence data you are recording may not be complete which can cause problems if you have situations with high frequency absentees and when reporting generally on your absence statistics.
Trigger Points. Trigger points can be used as part of your informal absence management strategy to highlight repeat absences in a particular time period, prior to more formal action being taken. For example, having 3 occasions of absence in a 12-week period could be used as a trigger point to have a supportive conversation with the individual about their attendance history, looking at strategies that could be implemented to reduce their absence prior to more formal action needing to be taken.
Having accurate absence data, as discussed in the above two points, will ensure that you can report with confidence about those members of staff that have hit the school’s agreed trigger points.
Absence Reports. Employee costs account for a significant proportion of a school’s budget, making them an extremely valuable resource and an absent member of staff causes disruption to not only the smooth running of the school, but more importantly on the children’s learning. However, for such a valuable resource how often do we analyse the information we have collected related to staff absence and then shared these findings with our leadership teams and governing bodies in order to develop strategies for improving, if necessary, the figures? Do you know how many occasions of absence you had last month; how many working days this equated to; what the breakdown was between department, what the most common cause of absence was; how this compares to previous years? We have all of this data recorded, but how often do we analyse to this level?
(Absence reporting will be focused on in more detail as part of the blog ‘What does good absence reporting look like’ as part of this ‘Spotlight On: Health & Well-being in Schools’ series)
Sharing Absence Data with Line Managers. More importantly perhaps then sharing high level data on staff absence with your senior leaders, is considering whether you are sharing absence data with line managers about the teams that they manage? Line Managers have a close working relationship with their teams and will likely be best placed to have conversations with individuals about their attendance. They will be completing return to work interviews with the team member when they return; have they been given a summary of that person’s attendance history so that they can have an early discussion with the individual about any concerns there might be? The latest CIPD Absence Management Survey found that more organisations are now ensuring that line managers have primary responsibility for managing absence, citing this as a more effective way of managing short term absence.
Celebrating Success. Within schools we celebrate positive pupil attendance records. Do we do enough to celebrate similar achievements with staff? We tend to focus on employee absence levels and what we can do to improve the attendance of particular individuals; is it just as important to say well done to staff that have high attendance records too as a means of recognising the contribution they make to the successful running of your organisation?
There are a number of resources within the SBM Toolkit that might be of use to you as you revisit your absence management processes and strategies: Staff Absence Management Tool, Self-Certification Absence Form, Return to Work Interview and a Leave of Absence Form.