Managing staff absence
Creating the right kind of working environment in which employees feel safe, valued, involved and able to carry out their role to the best of their ability, is the first crucial step for employers to demonstrate their duty of care to their staff, and to prevent on-going staff absence.
It is vital to have proper induction processes in place which gives employees clear guidance on health and safety, training and development, job description and expectations, safeguarding and codes of conduct with regard to absence, internet and social media use.
The employee must also be offered regular 1:1 progress meetings where they feel comfortable about expressing any concerns they might have.
Once staff absence does occur the employee and their manager must have access to a clearly defined and easily implementable set of procedures. The employee must report their absence as soon as possible to their supervisor or manager, along with reasons and likely duration. Self-certification forms must be completed, with medical certification for longer term absences. When the employee is well enough to come back a return to work interview must be carried out.
Schools which regularly and consistently conduct return to work interviews as a normal code of practice are demonstrating that absence is taken seriously. This is an important aspect of engendering an attendance culture. Informal and sympathetic discussion with the returning member of staff can determine whether the problem is on-going and what needs to happen to eliminate the causes; this is especially important in cases of stress-related absence.
If necessary advice can be sought from Occupational Health, and the employee must be reminded of the specific triggers that will invoke the management procedures to monitor and resolve attendance issues. These may include patterns of frequent short-term absences or regular absence on certain days of the week.
Healthy workplaces are vibrant, busy and energetic environments. Staff feel more confident and less prone to stress when there is good, open communication and an atmosphere of support. Nevertheless these softer aspects need to be backed up with properly documented policies that are helpful rather than punitive.