What causes staff absence?

What causes staff absence?

The absence of staff from the school environment can be very disruptive and costly, although some short-term absences are inevitable given the proximity to children and the seemingly endless round of bugs and viruses.

However where the absence is attributable to a stress-related illness, as is the case in the majority of long-term absences, schools can be liable for ‘foreseeable industrial injury’ if nothing is done to address it, especially where the stress factors can be traced to circumstances at work.

Spotting the likelihood of stress-related absence requires careful monitoring.

Firstly, you need to know your staff and be able to spot any unusual changes in behaviour or performance.

  • Are they expressing any work-related concerns during their progress meetings with their supervisor or manager?
  • Have there been any instances of relationship breakdown in the class-room, staff-room or with any parents or carers?
  • Have there been any complaints lodged with the school office about the member of staff?
  • Is there any discernible impact on attainment levels of pupils in their care?

The under-lying causes of stress-related illness can be far-reaching, and are frequently associated with the culture, environment and capability expectations that exist within the school. 

The increased focus on performance will undoubtedly heighten these concerns.

Here are some key points to which head teachers and managers must pay attention in order to detect the causes of stress-related staff absence at the earliest opportunity:

  • How much control employees feel they have about when or how they carry out their work.
  • How well supported employees feel and how much they feel they can talk to managers about their concerns.
  • How stable the employees’ relationships are within the class-room, staff-room and with parents and carers.
  • How clear the employee is about the expectations of their role.
  • Whether there are any significant organisational changes taking place that elicit feelings of anxiety and insecurity.

Promoting well-being in the workplace, fostering an ‘attendance culture’, and having well-designed and implemented policies and procedures to support staff are crucial.  
These will be addressed more closely in Part 2 of this HR series, entitled Managing Staff Absence.

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