Absence management: What's the point of triggers?

A school that doesn't have an absence management procedure incorporating measurement and analysis of absence will have no idea if there's a problem, let alone be able to identify ways of dealing with it.

There are many reasons why people take time off work. These can be categorised as:

  • short-term sickness absence
  • long-term sickness absence
  • other authorised absences, including annual leave; maternity, paternity, adoption, or parental leave; time off for public or trade union duties, or to care for dependents; compassionate leave; educational leave
  • unauthorised absence or persistent lateness.

Effective interventions in managing short-term absence include:

  • return-to-work interviews
  • use of trigger mechanisms to review attendance
  • disciplinary procedures for unacceptable absence levels
  • restricting sick pay
  • giving sickness absence information to line managers 
  • involving trained line managers in absence management
  • involving occupational health professionals
  • providing leave for family circumstances
  • flexible working.

Return-to-work interviews can help identify short-term absence problems at an early stage. They also provide managers with an opportunity to start a dialogue about underlying issues which might be causing the absence. 

Disciplinary procedures for unacceptable absence should make it clear to staff that unjustified absence will not be tolerated and that absence policies will be enforced.

In long term sickness cases the role of the line manager is vital in managing these absences however other interventions are also important. These include:

  • occupational health involvement and proactive measures to support staff health and well-being
  • trigger mechanisms to review attendance
  • restricting sick pay
  • changes to work patterns or environment
  • return-to-work interviews
  • rehabilitation programmes.

There are five typical elements in the recovery and return-to-work process:

  • keeping in contact with sick employees
  • planning and undertaking workplace controls or adjustments
  • using professional advice and treatment. 
  • planning and co-ordinating a return-to-work plan
  • regular evaluation with the employee about how things are working.

Significant cost savings can be made through effective absence management, which may include setting targets and 'triggers'. Research has shown that eight out of ten employers who set overall company targets think they are a successful tool in managing absence.

Trigger points tell managers when they should be taking action about staff absence. During periods of extended absence, they could be used to define points when a school might ask to see medical certificates, when they might make contact by phone or in person, when they might ask for a formal prognosis from a health professional such as an Occupational Health Advisor in addition to determine when occupational sick pay might run out.

Triggers can also be used for recurrent short-term absence, which accounts for two-thirds of workplace absence. In such situations, the trigger lets managers know they may need to work with a certain employee on finding ways to improve attendance.

It's not always easy to spot patterns of recurring short-term absence. Many schools use a combination of measures, but if an individual passes a certain score/occasions, then the trigger is activated. However even if pre-agreed trigger has been set off, managers should show sensitivity and treat each case on its merits.

Effective absence management is also about supporting employees with health problems to stay in or return to work. Developing effective return-to-work programmes and offering flexible working where possible form part of an absence management strategy. A focus on employee well-being and health promotion can help avoid absence problems developing. Employers should remember that most absence is genuine and that employees often need support in their recovery.

SAM tracks triggers for you, so every time an employee hits a trigger it will flag it on the dashboard and record tasks to help you manage the absence process. Everything is centralised in one place so at the click of a button you can compare employees, line managers and departments identifying absence trends and taking proactive action to reduce absence, saving time and money. For more information take a look at our features page or contact us to book a free demo.

Our sister company Fusion can also help with employee support including occupational health referrals to qualified physicians, counselling, life coaching and HR support around these topics. Email enquiries@fusionbusiness.org.uk for more information.


 
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