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Minimising the disruption of short-term absences

Short-term sickness absences account for around 80 per cent of all workplace absences. They're very common, because for the most part they're caused by the everyday illnesses and mishaps that lay us all low now and then.

Most are minor one-off absences brought on by colds and flu, toothache, nausea, stomach bugs, and strains and sprains. Injuries, bouts of back pain or migraine may be responsible for other more regular periods of short absence.

Statistics suggest that long-term absences are more costly to employers than short-term. But short-term absences are arguably more disruptive, particularly for smaller businesses. While cover can often be planned and provisions made during long absences, the sudden upheavals caused by a day or two off here and there can put a strain on colleagues who may have to fill the gaps at the last moment. When it gets more serious, it could affect morale and hit productivity.

Analysing workplace absence data is important because it could reveal patterns indicative of an underlying problem. This might be general ill-health that would benefit from proper medical investigation or hidden difficulties an employee might be facing at work or home. Once a problem is known, effective action can be taken.

Either way, employers need to keep on top of short-term absence. Common strategies include using 'trigger points', which alert managers to higher than expected levels of absence, and enforcing rules about absences immediately before and after holidays. Managers could expect to hear from employees within an hour of their normal start time, stay in touch with them throughout their absence, and hold return-to-work interviews when they're back.

Keeping up communication afterwards will help identify any ongoing problems. If the employee returns within seven days, he or she should fill in a self-certificate which briefly explains the nature of their absence. As a very last resort, employers might consider disciplinary action for unacceptable levels of absence.

Acas has detailed advice and guidance in its Advisory booklet - Managing attendance and employee turnover and provides a range of practical training courses on Absence management and Creating an attendance culture.

Visit the Acas Training Courses, Workshops and Projects area for more information.

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