Some Thoughts On Dealing With Absenteeism Effectively

Jonathan Farrington

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As the biggest investment a business is likely to make is staff, any time lost to sickness can be costly. This cost must be measured not only in terms of lost production and sick pay, but also in terms of employee morale. Whenever an employee is off sick, there is a knock-on effect on those colleagues who have to cover.

Recent reports have highlighted that sickness is costing British businesses up to £1.75 billion a year, or roughly £500 per employee. Although the problem is far worse in the public sector, the private sector is still averaging 6.5 days of sickness absence a year per employee. Improved management of a company's sickness absence could mean serious savings.

Sickness reporting:

The first area to consider is the reporting of sickness. Before anything can be done to reduce absence levels it helps to know what they are. Everyone needs to know precisely what they are required to do if they are too ill to come in to work. Make sure employees are aware that they should phone, not leave a message, and speak to their manager or an equally senior person if they are not available.

Tell employees they must phone in as early as possible to advise why they are unable to make it to work and when they expect to return. It is not unreasonable to ask these questions and it may mean they are less likely to take that occasional day off. Unless their contracts of employment state otherwise, employees are only required to provide a doctors certificate for periods of absence exceeding seven days. But employees can be asked to complete an absence statement, which details when they were off and why. This can then be signed off and put on their employment file.

The return to work interview:

When an employee's returns from sickness, ensure that they have a ‘return to work’ interview. This should be done even if they have only had one day off sick. This is a simple but effective tool and will make employees think twice before taking an occasional day off.

The Bradford Factor:

Long-term sickness can be planned around and dealt with. The worst type of sickness, as far as a business is concerned, is the regular but sporadic day off. In order to be able to deal with this, an objective monitoring system will be required. It might be worth considering the Bradford Factor, which is not a hugely complicated scientific idea, but a simple means to highlight those who regularly take a single day off.

The Bradford Factor measures both the number of sick days and the number of absences. The formula is:

S x S x D = ‘Bradford Factor'

(S is the number of spells of absence in the last 52 weeks and D is the number of days’ absence in the last 52 weeks).

For example, an employee who takes 10 individual sick days in a year will have a Bradford Factor of (10 x 10 x 10) 1000. Whereas an employee who has a total of 10 days sick on one occasion in a year because of a virus or bad bout of flu will only have a Bradford Factor of 10. As it concentrates on instances more than actual day’s absence, the Bradford Factor allows a business to have a table of sickness. Those without satisfactory explanations for their regular short-term absences can then be dealt with formally through disciplinary procedures. As ever, it is essential that consistency is applied when dealing with sickness absence. It is worth remembering that genuine sickness should be dealt with in a sympathetic and understanding way, with particular attention paid to the Disability and Discrimination Act and its requirements.

In summary:

  • Ensure that sickness absence is monitored.

  • Make sure everyone is aware of sickness reporting procedures.

  • Carry out a return to work interview.

  • Introduce an objective measuring system.

  • For persistent offenders, use disciplinary procedures.

  • Deal with all sickness in a sympathetic manner.

  • Be consistent.

    Copyright © 2006 Jonathan Farrington. All rights reserved

    Jonathan Farrington is the Managing Partner of The jfa Group To find out more about the author, read his latest articles or to subscribe to his newsletter for dedicated sales professionals, visit
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