UK employers seem to suffer a very high incidence of “chronic Monday-itis”. Short absences for relatively minor matters form the vast majority of ill health absence, so it’s important to deal with this type of absence effectively.
Return-to-work meetings are one of the most effective tools in the managers’ arsenal of absence management techniques. Unfortunately many mangers dislike carrying out RTW meetings and either fail to do them or fail to do them correctly. They say things like, “I don’t agree with this process”, “HR says I have to do this” or snap something like, “Good holiday?!”
Often they are so uncomfortable with what they consider to be a ‘pink and fluffy’ approach that they go through the process staring steadfastly at the toe of their shoe, refusing to engage with the employee. RTW meetings are only of any real use if they’re carried out properly. This is a matter more of technique than content. Consider the facts in each case (one size doesn’t fit all).
If the employee generally has good attendance (i.e. most workers),the interviewing manager should take the following steps:
- Welcoming the employee back; look the employee straight in the eye and smile.
- Check to see that he is OK to work; determine whether he’s taking medication that might have safety implications.
- Find out whether there are any adjustments we need to consider, brief him on any relevant matters and complete the paperwork.
- Take the opportunity to thank him for his commitment to the organisation.
Note that where there is an underlying medical reason for the absence the condition may be a disability, so it’s essential to explore what reasonable adjustments can be made to accommodate a return to work. Where an employee has poor attendance, but there doesn’t appear to be an underlying medical condition linking the absences, it’s a different approach. The manager should still take steps 1-3 as laid out above. But the similarity ends there.
In this case ask if there is an underlying medical reason causing the absence. Express concern about his health and ask what can be done to help him improve his attendance. Show him his attendance sheet.
In many cases, the employee doesn’t know how much time he’s taken and this exercise will be enough to correct the problem. Ask probing questions, for example, where there’s a pattern ask about it, (“Five of your six days of absence have been on a Monday; that’s rather an odd coincidence. What’s happening?”) Wait for an answer.
Where the employee has confirmed that there is no underlying medical reason for absence and there’s nothing you can do to improve his attendance, suggest a target (“You’ve told me there’s no underlying medical reason for your absences and there’s nothing we can do to help you increase your attendance.
Given that the average person takes no more than about six or seven days sickness a year, it will be reasonable to agree that you’ll take no more than two days off in the next six months, won’t it?”) If you need help managing attendance give us a call.
While fair and compliant, this approach calls the employee to account and takes him slightly outside his comfort zone. He then has to make a choice as to whether he will meet attendance requirements, leave or be managed out. This usually does the trick, but where employee doesn’t meet the attendance targets, move to the formal process.
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