How to identify when you have a sickness absence problem

Jun 3, 2019 | Time Off Work

The sooner you start addressing absence problems, the easier they are to solve and the less disruption they cause, so early action is vital. But a key ingredient to taking early action is identifying as early as possible that there is a problem. So how do you spot a problem early enough to make dealing with it a breeze?


Sounds obvious, but you’re never going to identify that you have a sickness absence problem if you don’t actually record anywhere what time people are having off sick. Some small businesses don’t record at all. Most do keep some records of attendance, but there are some key reasons these are often inadequate

  • Forgetting to record going home early, or letting single day sickness absences slide
  • Allowing staff to use holiday entitlement when off sick (not necessarily a problem in itself) and only recording it as holiday, not as sickness absence
  • Allowing people to make up the time later and not recording it as sickness absence
  • Not recording the reason for the absence
  • Not recording it in a manner that enables patterns to be spotted, such as regular absences on particular days of the week.

So record it, but make sure it’s accurate and gives you relevant information.

Do something with that information

Even when sickness absence is physically recorded accurately, business owners and managers still frequently only identify they have a sickness absence problem when they get to the stage of feeling as though the worker has been off a lot, rather than through looking at the information. When the manager actually looks at the data, it’s not uncommon to be surprised at just how much time a worker has actually had.
Problems will be identified much quicker if information gathered is checked and analysed on a regular basis, to actively look for patterns, rather than to confirm the existence of a problem you already know you have. So don’t just leave recording absence to a junior member of staff and never actually look at the data yourself.

What to look for

When you’re looking at your absence records, ask yourself the following questions

  • Is anyone having absences at a rate of once a month or more? They are heading for being over the average and need keeping an eye on.
  • Is anyone having absences at similar times of the week or month? Regular Fridays or Mondays are the classic example.
  • Is anyone off frequently with the same condition?
  • Is anyone off with lots of low-level, vague, unconfirmable headaches and tummy bugs?
  • Is anyone off with a condition that could have been or could be exacerbated by their work?
  • Is anyone off with stress or back problems?
  • Has anyone been off for two weeks continuously?

All of these could represent a problem which could develop from a minor one into a major issue. You might not need to take immediate action, but all of these should be monitored more closely, with perhaps support offered if appropriate.

Take other knowledge into account

When you’re looking at the data you have on attendance, put it together with other information you may have, including

  • The nature of the work people are doing
  • Any other health conditions you know about
  • Any work stress they are or may be under at the moment
  • Any performance problems they may be having
  • Any employee conflict or disagreement problems that might be occurring
  • Any personal problems they may be having
  • Any disabilities they have, even if those are not cited as the reason for the absence
  • Whether they might be pregnant
  • If they recently returned from maternity leave

All of these could be relevant, and viewing the absence data with other factors in mind will help you identify and address the problem most effectively and safely.
With all this information, you will be able to quickly identify an absence problem almost before it begins, and will be in the ideal position to take effective rapid action to resolve or prevent it.
If you’d like advice on identifying sickness absence problems, please get in touch.