Attendance Management

Lost production, reduced Customer services and more stress on overstretched workforces makes proactive attendance management an integral part of effective HR policies.  Absence costs business and industry an average of £13 billion annually.


The problem
171 million working days is lost to non-attendance each year.  On average each member of staff takes 11.9 days off sick at a cost of £43 per day per employee, according to CBI figures.


There are many issues that need to be considered when we talk about Attendance Management.  In the past discussion has been hampered by some unhelpful myths eg:

“Absence from work is uncontrollable and unpredictable”

“Health is private to the individual and management are not in a position to question ‘sick absences’.

But things have changed.  Absence is expensive to business.  The CBI 2000 Report, Focus on Absence indicates that the average cost is now £438 per employee per year.  Allowing the myths to dictate inaction could be very expensive.

With current costs, Health & Safety legislation and employees’ expectations regarding working conditions and health issues, managers are now looking more closely at supportive Attendance Management techniques.

Why do people take time off  work?

Findings show that absences from work can be the result of a complex set of factors:

Minor illness appears to be the major cause.


Management indifference

This can be an important factor.  Not everybody enjoys good health, and support for individuals when they are unable to attend work for debilitating health reasons is important, but research has shown that if employees believe that management are indifferent to absence, then absences increase.


What can be done?

The first step is clear attendance management policies which are communicated, understood, agreed and supported at all levels of the organization.


To be effective, policies should:


An important part of attendance management is the recognition and acceptance of responsibility for doing so at all levels of the business.


All employees have a duty to attend work unless unfit to do so.  If they are absent they should inform their manager promptly, with an indication of the illness/condition and an expected date for return to work.  They should also agree regular contact arrangements as appropriate.


Managers should be approachable and consistent and demonstrate an interest in the well-being of their staff.  They need to monitor all absences and take appropriate action when procedures trigger a management response.  Supportive return-to-work interviews should also be conducted in all cases of absence.


Return to work interviews

The purpose of return to work interviews is to:

Long Term Sickness
Individuals who are on Long Term sickness absence sometimes need ongoing support from work.


For example, regular, agreed contact by way of telephone calls, visits or cards is important to show that they are missed and that they are wished a speedy return to work.


Regular contact can also help identify any underlying problems or concerns about the return to work. 

Where possible or appropriate, notice of possible adjustments to working hours or job responsibilities can be considered before a return to work is envisaged.


Follow up

After contact with a sick colleague or after a return to work interview there maybe some follow up work for the manager to do.


HR specialists may need to be involved about the implications of any proposed job change or part time working arrangements proposed on medical grounds, as well as aspects of management, work demands or possibly work conflicts.

60% of absences are due to stress at work and if this is an area of concern advice from HR and other specialists is important.


If absences from work are increasing either on the part of an individual or from a particular work area further investigation may be needed.



It is important that meetings are recorded for the following reasons:

  1. It confirms that management have taken action in attendance management

  2. That the individual is clear about managements concern about their well-being and absences from work

  3. That appropriate action can be seen to have taken place in the case of work problems.

Key Questions

Attendance Management is not easy as there will be many questions that arise:

Training Implications

The training implications of effective management of absence are widespread.  For staff generally they begin at Induction when the organization’s policy on reporting absence from work needs to be made clear. 

Managers need to understand the importance of actively managing absence.  Newly appointed managers need to understand the potential costs and problems associated with unmanaged absence and need to be equipped with the necessary knowledge e.g. Managers Health and Safety responsibilities, legal implications of absence management including the effect of Human Rights legislation.  All Managers, need the skills to carry out an effective return to work interview.


DBA – can help

We are putting together a new Attendance Management Workshop covering the principals of Attendance Management. 


While we cannot guarantee to provide all the answers we can give you an interesting day, full of information and practiced advice on Attendance Management Techniques.  Contact us if you need help or wish to discuss this issue further.


Good Practice Criteria


We welcome David Riddle to our team of Associates.   David has more than 12 years experience of supporting the provision of an Employee Assistance Service, and has a wide practical experience in management and people issues. He specializes in the areas of Attendance & Stress Management.