Managing Employee Sick Leave

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Managing Employee Sick Leave

Sickness is, unfortunately, one of the constants in life. (Alongside growing old and the office fridge being full of out-of-date food.) It also happens to be rather expensive for business.

First, you have to pay sick leave, then you have to arrange for other employees to work overtime, try to make up for the fact that the rest of your team are now overworked, and cope with the cost of lost working time and any mistakes made as a result… Nightmare. We don’t have a magic miracle cure, worse luck, but we do have some suggestions for helping to reduce the impact of sickness on your company and your team. That’s almost as good, right?

Step 1: Create a policy

Yes, we know it’s boring, but you really can’t beat a good policy for helping to streamline your business. Besides, where else are you going to document exciting things like Sick Pay (wow!), Reporting Sickness (intriguing!), and How Often An Employee Needs To Get In Touch While They’re Off Sick (a proper page-turner, honest)?

Creating a policy also helps employees to understand their rights and responsibilities when ill, setting their minds at ease as well as making it easier for you to manage. After all, the only thing worse than your employee going off sick is them going off sick without you knowing. Setting clear rules on how they should report sickness, who they should report to, and what information they need to give makes both your lives easier, not to mention giving you the chance to find someone to cover them before their shift starts.

Once you’ve got your policy you’ll also need to make sure that everyone knows where to find it. Trust us, there’s nothing quite as efficiently soul-destroying as spending hours working on a policy only to find that no one else even knows it exists 6 months later. Send it to new employees, display laminated copies around the office, carve it into the desks; whatever floats your boat. Just make sure that everyone’s actually read and understood it.

Step 2: Track sickness

Okay, everyone’s reporting sickness efficiently and you’re able to schedule around them. All good, right?

Well, not really if they’re constantly ill and you’re not sure why. That’s why the next step is to record their sicknesses so that you can spot any patterns. Maybe they’ve got a medical condition that makes it difficult to work early morning shifts. Maybe they’ve had really bad luck this flu season. Or, yes, maybe their sick days correlate a little too well with big nights out. Either way, tracking sickness can give you the tools you need to start talking to the employee and to work out exactly what the problem is and what you can both do to resolve it. Tracking sickness doesn’t need to be complicated, either; depending on your team size you could use dedicated software, a spreadsheet, or even a simple calendar.

Having an accurate log of past sicknesses is also essential if you do find yourself needing to take disciplinary action. It’s never pleasant, but if you really do think that an employee is faking illness and you’ve already exhausted all other options then you're going to need to be able to back up your actions with proof.

Step 3: Helping employees to return to work

Giving employees support in returning to work is a surprisingly overlooked part of the sickness management process considering how important it can be. Sure, it might seem a bit daft to have a full process to deal with welcoming someone back after needing the afternoon off, but if it stops them from worrying about coming back and helps to prevent future problems then it’s well worth it.

Return to work interviews are a common way of handling this, but they’re often misrepresented as being a chance to interrogate team members suspected of pulling a sickie, rather than looking for a solution. Sure, that might stop people from calling in sick when they’re not but it’s also likely to encourage employees to not take leave when they ought to and to make it more difficult for employees suffering from stress to return. Instead, the employee’s return can be an opportunity to find out more about their situation and to explore ways to get the best out of them, whether through adjusting their shift times, redistributing workload, or providing them with training on stress management. Making your team feel valued and encouraging them to seek medical help when needed is a great way to boost employee wellbeing, protecting your business in the process.

Step 4: Don’t help employees to return to work too soon

Okay, yes, this does seem to contradict the previous point but bear with us. Getting employees back to work as soon as they’re well enough is a good thing, there’s no disputing that. But getting employees back they’re ready? Not so great.

Employees coming to work when they’re not really well enough is known as presenteeism. Sure, it sounds great; your employees are so keen to be at work that they’re practically dragging themselves in. Except that once they’re in they’re probably not able to do their job properly so they’ll slow the team down. And they’ll take longer to get better because they’re not resting. And they’re probably infecting the rest of the team while they’re at it. Not ideal. Trying to get the balance right without employees coming in when they’re ill or staying at home when they’re fine isn’t easy, but working with your team to hit it is well worth the effort.

Step 5: Prevent rather than cure

That brings us to our final point; preventing your employees from being sick in the first place.

Okay, obviously you’ll never be able to prevent sickness entirely; the rest of this guide would be a bit obsolete if you could, but that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing you can do. Making sure that your schedule is well balanced so that you’re using your employees efficiently and none of them are burning out is a good start. Employees who are physically worn down are much more susceptible to illness, which isn’t ideal when you’re trying to run a business.

Training your team in stress management techniques can help, too; stress and mental health problems were the biggest causes of long term absence in 2019 so anything you can do to prevent them is worth it. Even just knowing that managers are available to discuss any issues can help to reduce stress, which not only avoids people going off as a direct result of stress but can also help to reduce their likeliness of being struck down by other diseases.

When it comes down to it there’s no one fix-all solution for employee sickness. It’s always going to happen and it’s always going to be a pain. Following the above steps should help you with managing it though, making life easier for both you and for your team and allowing your business to run as smoothly as possible, no matter what’s thrown at it.

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