Managing Absence Management Effectively

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“Critically evaluate the role of absence management in organisations and discuss how long-term absence can be managed effectively.”

This report shall investigate the problematic area of sickness absence with an emphasis on long-term sickness absence, highlighting the reasons why this area must be addressed and how organisations can manage this effectively.

The term “absence” is used to describe the period of time that an employee is not in attendance at work. With this in mind, absence can cover many different reasons for people not attending work. These include, long-term sickness absence, short-term sickness absence , unauthorised absence, persistent lateness, annual leave, parental leave, maternity leave, educational leave, compassionate leave and many more. (CIPD, 2007)

There are two main types of sickness absence, short term and long term. “Short term sickness is by far the most common form of absence accounting for eighty percent of all absences.” (ACAS, 2007) Short term absence is an absence for a period of less than three days. The main forms of short term absence are minor illnesses such as colds and flu’s, headaches and muscular sprains. (ACAS, 2007)

Whereas long term absence presents a more significant problem for organisations and “can have a devastating effect on the performance of your business and the health and wellbeing of your employees.” (HSE, 2008) Stress is the number one reason for long term sickness absence in the UK. The other main causes of long term absence are back pain and mental ill health issues.

Sickness absence in general, both long and short term costs organisations over thirteen billion pounds per year. This is six hundred and fifty nine pounds per employee per year and constitutes for two hundred million working days per year, eight point four percent for every member of staff which is three point seven percent of total working time. (CIPD, 2007)

Aswell as the aforementioned monetary costs there are also numerous intangible costs associated with absence in the workplace. However, until very recently these costs were not as visible to management as monetary costs. “Absence as a problem only comes to managerial attention when it appears to cost money.” (Dunn and Wilkinson, 2002) These intangible costs can be extremely detrimental to organisations. Such as the effect absent member of staff can have on other team members due to added responsibility and increased workload. This low morale can in turn affect attitudes to work.

When employees are absent from work they are very often replaced with staff from temporary employment agencies. These inexperienced temporary replacements have been known to damage the reputation of organisations. If an organisations customers are not being provided with the service they are paying for, for example if they are repeatedly being told that the organisation is suffering form staff shortages or the person they require is “off sick” and they are being met with inexperienced temporary staff then they may well take their business elsewhere. If this occurs then the reputation of the organisation can be permanently damaged.

Traditionally organisations used hard methods of HRM to attempt to manage absence in the workplace. Such as disciplinary procedures for unacceptable levels of absence and restricting employees sick pay. However, these methods did not significantly reduce the absence levels within organisations and also were seen to have a detrimental effect on employee morale and what is now referred to as employee wellbeing. (CIPD, 2007) It is clear to see that many of these traditional and hard methods of managing absence were mainly concerned with the monetary costs involved.

Many organisations have now shifted to more contemporary approaches to managing absence and these are frequently regarded as the softer methods of HRM. (Armstrong, 2003) The contemporary approach to managing absence focuses more on the...
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