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Absence management: an essential business process, or just a bit of HR nonsense?

It's a fair question to be honest. When you're a manager or business owner trying to complete projects, deal with customer queries, solve immediate problems, and other essential business tasks each day; being told by HR that you *need* to arrange a return to work meeting with Gail to discuss last week's stomach bug can feel a bit over the top. I mean, she's back now isn't she? Problem solved.

Or is it?

In my experience, absence management is one of the most irritating and time-sapping tasks that HR folks like me inflict on line managers. Good, thorough absence management processes (whether for long- or short-term absences) unfortunately mean more meetings, more admin, and less time spent on other operational tasks. I completely empathise when business leaders tell me it's a pain. Of course it is.

But let me remind you of what those annoying absence management processes help you achieve:

  1. Dialogue with your staff. A well-conducted absence or return to work meeting shows concern for an employee's welfare, opportunities for 1:1 discussion, and a chance to brief them on what's been happening whilst they were off.

  2. Lower likelihood of future problems. Whether by discouraging potential malingerers, or by spotting early opportunities to support someone's health and attendance, good absence management processes have a habit of nipping potential absence issues in the bud before they become a real challenge.

  3. Stronger finances and productivity. When your employee absence rates are low and managed well, the business has more money and time to spend on other priorities.

  4. Control over your legal risks. When absence management is haphazard, inconsistent, and punitive towards particular individuals, it will almost inevitably end up creating conflict. That conflict could potentially land you in tribunal. Ongoing consistency, fairness, and (reasonable) patience are key to reducing the chances of this.

  5. A better supported workforce. Listening to individuals, consulting with occupational health, agreeing adjustments, etc are all ways to help your team feel supported and valued at work. And let's not also forget, that colleagues who are not absent will also usually appreciate it when they know the organisation is doing its best to encourage good and consistent attendance amongst colleagues.

Would you like support with embedding good absence management processes within your organisation? Do get in touch. I've been a manager, and I know how it feels, but I also know my stuff about HR.

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