Get your line managers on board to reduce absence

XpertHR published results of a new absence management survey this week. The findings of the survey, which focused on how companies tackle absence, confirm what we already knew: Line managers are in a key role when it comes to managing absence. The respondents had ranked their most and least effective absence management initiatives and 4 of the top 5 had to do with getting line managers more involved in the process.

Funnily enough, the top 5 read in the order they ranked in outline a pretty good skeleton structure for implementing good absence management:

1. Get line managers’ buy-in

Line managers are central to any absence initiative being successful. These are the guys (and gals) who put the policy into practice and if they really believe in what you’re preaching, they’ll do a lot better job.

Involving stakeholders from all levels when reviewing your processes is a good thing to do whatever change you’re trying to implement. Making sure you understand how absence affects your managers operationally on the ground is really important in addition to knowing the theory of absence management from HR textbooks.

Only too often we come across companies where a new policy has been rolled out with very little prior consultation with Ops managers only to find that putting the policy into actions is difficult because it doesn’t quite fit the operational environment and because managers feel no ownership of the process.

2. Review your policy

It’s not always necessary to reinvent the wheel so don’t think you must re-write your policy if it is fit for purpose. In fact, just as many respondents in the above survey said a new or revised policy was the least effective tool to tackle absence as said it was the most effective. What is key here is that the policy works. There should be measures in place for unacceptable levels of absence and clear action plan to follow when the triggers are hit. Re-writing policy is time consuming (and dull!) work and not necessarily very value adding. Spending the time ensuring your current policy is being implemented can be time much better spent.

3. Train your line managers

You’ve got your line managers on side and a firm but fair policy; the next task is to make sure your managers are comfortable implementing the policy. Training is really important here and absence management can often be forgotten until it becomes relevant because someone actually goes absent. Training should be structured, proactive and a fixed element in new manager induction, not just ad hoc, on a “need to know” basis.

4. Provide managers with good absence data

Finally, empower your managers with good absence data. Without consistent and comprehensive absence records, managers won’t be able to implement good decisive actions. All employees should be treated equally so data on all absence must be collected and stored in the same way. A clever system, like Engage, will help managers further by highlighting when action is needed – that way ensuring that the policy is put into practice and no one is picked on unfairly.

5. Review your RTW interview process

The 5th point on XpertHR survey respondents’ list was maximising the effect of RTW interviews. This is a great tool for managing short term absence and I’d slot it in with the line manager training piece at step 3. Read more about RTW interviews here.



XpertHR Tackling absence effectively: 2016 survey – Response for most effective absence management initiatives:

  • improving line managers’ buy-in to taking an active role in absence management (18.3%);
  • introducing a new or revised absence policy (9.7%);
  • providing line managers with training in absence management (8.9%);
  • providing absence statistics to line managers (8.2%); and
  • improving how return-to-work interviews are conducted and what they discuss (7.4%)