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Six Tips to Help Practice Managers Deal with Employee Illness

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If your practice is one of those where morale is high it’s likely that your employees’ absenteeism rate is low. And, when employees do take time off with illness, they do so with a fair amount of ‘guilt’. They don’t like letting down their colleagues and patients. However, illness could be a symptom of other problems and issues, either at work or at home. Generally, it’s the practice manager’s job to manage absenteeism.

Here are six tips to help you do so confidently and conscientiously:

1. Keep records of absence

Most practices keep inadequate records of absence, falsely believing that simple dates of absence and a running tally of days away suffices. Of course, these details are important, but too often they are used as a prompt for disciplinary action rather than as a prompt for motivational management.

Records should therefore extend to extra details, such as reason for absence or notes on return to work interviews.

2. Understand the type of absence

When looking at absences because of illness, they generally fall into three distinct patterns:

- Short-term and irregular

- Short-term and regular

- Long-term

The type of absence is often an indication of its causes.

3. Show empathy in the return to work interview/meeting

Understanding the root cause of absence will help identify workplace or personal issues that cause the absence. An irregular short-term absence is most commonly because of genuine illness. On the other hand, it may have been caused by some other problem (such as physical injury after a night out that went wrong). It may be the prelude to future absenteeism.

Short-term and regular absence may be related to extended health problems, or they could be related to personal issues. These issues may not be untoward – a partner that works away and upon return the employee decides ‘to throw a sickie’ – or an indication of stress or anxiety at work or in the home.

Long-term absence may be a sign that there is a much bigger health, home, or mental issue at play.

When exploring the reasons for absence, always be empathetic, sincere, and sympathetic. Be on the side of the employee, rather than seen as someone who treats an employee as no more than a number. Value them, and they will value you and the practice.

4. Be clear and honest

Be clear about expectations and practice policies when talking to employees. They will respect you for your clarity, and in return you should expect the same.

5. Take appropriate action

Having identified underlying cause, you’ll need to take the appropriate action. It could be that poor working conditions are manifesting themselves in a constant back pains – perhaps a new chair would resolve the issue.

Perhaps scheduling holidays to coincide with the return of a loved one from regular work abroad will resolve that unwanted few days away every other month.

If stress is the issue, then perhaps a review of responsibilities at work will help relieve unwanted anxiety.

Finally, there will always be colleagues that do not see the harm in taking a day of 'sick' if they want to. These are the more difficult cases to handle, but this is where you will benefit most from keeping notes on absenteeism. 

With all the cases above, ensure that you get time to discuss and understand their reasons for absence, and if you decide to take action, ensure it is discussed with them first.

6. Know the legal issues

There are legal issues that you’ll need to consider throughout the process of dealing with employee absence. As part of continuing professional education, a course that covers these legal issues will prove invaluable ­– Acas runs such courses regularly.

When your employees are happy in their work, morale will rise, absenteeism will fall, and productivity increase. Make sure you handle employee absence effectively, and employee absence will never be an issue that damages your practice.

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If you have any questions or feedback, please do not hesitate to contact me - alex.henman@esuppliesmedical.co.uk - 01865 261451

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