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Managing Staff Absence

Published: 09/3/15

It goes without saying that employee absence affects productivity, but it can also have a profoundly negative influence on staff morale, including middle management who often have to negotiate the best way of handling it.

As usual Acas is on hand with solid help and advice, what they say is:

  • High levels of unauthorised absence, including sick leave can cause lost or delayed production, low morale and reduce the standard of service within an organisation.
  • Measuring absence can show how much time is lost, where it occurs most and how often individual employees are absent.
  • Keeping individual attendance records will help monitor absence and lateness.
  • Having attendance and absence policies will help employee's understand what standards are expected of them and will help managers deal with these issues in a fair and consistent way.

People are absent from work for 3 main reasons.

  • They are sick.
  • They feel unable to come to work because of family or caring responsibilities.
  • They are on authorised leave such as holiday, maternity leave or a training course.

On average, in relation to unauthorised absence, people are absent from work for 7.6 days a year (CIPD Absence Survey 2013). Managing attendance problems often means tackling possible causes of absence, such as working patterns, job design and employment relations. This can also include addressing discipline problems such as lateness and poor time keeping. If such issues should arise, they can often be dealt with informally by the line manager in the first instance.

Unauthorised absence is normally the "odd day off" when employees give no reason for the absence. Whether paid or unpaid this type of absence can be costly to an organisation as it is unpredictable. Absence of this kind may eventually lead to disciplinary action.

How to minimise absence and lateness

In addition to carrying out effective return to work discussions, there are workplace issues you can address to minimise absence. These include the quality of management, working relationships, job design, employment relations, communication of information and flexible working arrangements. In addition, if workers know that absence will be noticed and investigated, they are less likely to take time off work without proper cause.

Statutory /contractual sick pay

Employees must satisfy certain conditions to be entitled to statutory sick pay (SSP), employers will be able to advise employees if they qualify. SSP is paid for every day that would normally be worked, but does not start until the fourth working day of sickness and lasts for a maximum of 28 weeks. Further information regarding SSP can be obtained from the HM Revenue and Customs website.

Some employers may offer company sick pay that may give full or part pay for a set period of time. This will be found in the terms and conditions of employment and may be discretional.

Acas Helpline

Acas has a free Helpline to provide impartial advice for employers, employees and representatives on a range of employment relations, employment rights, HR and management issues.

Helpline number: 0300 123 1100
Monday-Friday: 8am-8pm and Saturday 9am-1pm

Acas also produces a step-by-step guide for managing staff absence as well as various training courses.


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