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It takes time to manage sickness absence effectively but the benefits for staff, managers and pupils is worth it

It has long been recognised that employee sickness absence can be costly; has a detrimental effect on the business and the individual; and can adversely impact on colleagues and students. Most employers have a sickness absence policy on the shelf but not everyone applies this consistently. The argument is often that it is time consuming to conduct return to work interviews, and that Occupational Health referrals are a waste of time.

The key to managing sickness absence is to find a good balance between supporting your employees and facilitating their return to work or enabling them to remain in work, whilst also managing the needs of your school, and this means following your own policy in all cases.

The problem with failing to manage sickness absence is two-fold

  • staff can feel unsupported in managing their health and their work and you lose good people to regular or long-term absence, or ultimately, entirely,
  • it can create a culture at work where sick leave becomes abused as others see absence not being addressed, and this can also lead to building resentment amongst colleagues who are left to pick up the extra work.

Recent experience of working with a large primary school in the outer London area produced dramatic results. Consistent application of monitoring absence trigger points, good communication with employees, asking the right questions of Occupational Health, and setting targets and providing appropriate support to individuals to improve attendance resulted in a significant 88% reduction on the cost of supply teachers over two academic years. It didn’t happen overnight, as change takes time, but it is worth the journey.

Nicki Harris

Nicki Harris

Nicki joined the Education HR Team in 1989, following completion of her psychology degrees and has a Post-Graduate Certificate in Employment Law. Nicki co-manages the HR team with Colin Hooker and her main responsibilities are leadership of the support, business and development functions services. She manages the provision of model policies, procedures and guidance to customers, pay and conditions issues and the training offer. Nicki has worked with the Local Government Association over the years on various projects around pay, terms and conditions and is an Advisor to the National Employers Organisation for School Teachers (NEOST).