How to reduce sickness absence in your business

While any manager would love a 100% attendance rate in their business, it’s an unlikely dream for most.

Sickness absence is an unfortunate fact of business life - projects have to get shelved, other employees have to take up the extra work, and calendars are jumbled up while everything gets shuffled around. Serious and long-term medical conditions can cause issues at any time, and one-off illnesses are always a threat.

Thankfully, we know a fair bit about absence from work (you'd hope so given we make software that tracks sick leave) and have found a few ways you can bring down the sickness rate in your office without making anyone miserable. Here are some of our favourite tips.

The working environment  

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Five days a week, you and your employees come to the same place and sit within a few feet of each other. A place conducive to good health and wellbeing is critical for your employees and your business. Important things to bear in mind are:

Aesthetics: noise, especially in open offices, can cause headaches, distractions, and lead to heightened stress levels, and bright strip lighting can do the same. How about allocating a few quiet dark spots with warm lighting, to give everyone's eyes a break?

Ergonomics: back pain is just one of the problems that costs businesses millions of lost working days every year. A desk ergonomics audit is a great idea, and regular check-ups from an occupational health consultant can be vital.

Standing desks can help here too, and you can buy converters for cheap (even just an upturned cardboard box can be used). Do read some guidance beforehand, though; standing for 8 hours a day won't do anyone any good.

Air, temperature, and water: Stuffy, recycled office air can harbour all kinds of germs and irritate the airways. Room temperature being too cold or hot can wreak havoc on immune systems, and a lack of fresh, filtered water can contribute to headaches and lethargy. These are all simple fixes, best to get right first time.

Compliance with health and safety regulations: not the most exciting topic, but you’d rather get this right first time than deal with the loss of a good employee through injury, and the legal ramifications that follow.

Flexible and remote work

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Remote work is one of the finest developments of the digital age. While it doesn't work for everyone, if someone's job only needs a laptop and internet connection, it's worth considering as an absence-prevention measure.  

If someone has the sniffles, let them work from home. This is so much better than coughing and sneezing, spreading their germs around the office.

Of course, there is a limit to how sick someone can be without impacting their work or recovery, but some prefer to work through it, rather than take a sick day off. If so, it might be better if they stay at home.

Giving people the option to start later to avoid a stressful commute, or working around school times, can reduce the need for both stress-related leave and family emergencies.

I once had the misfortune to work for a call centre when they implemented mandatory 12-hour shifts, three times a week. You can imagine the quality of the calls during the last hour of those shifts. Unsurprisingly, colleagues started quitting shortly after, and sickness absences went through the roof. Who’d have thought?

Culture fit - the right people in the right job

It all starts with hiring the right people.  

Some thrive in high-pressure environments, while some prefer a quieter pace. Social preferences are different for everyone; introverts, while capable of being the life of the party, need alone time to recharge. So if you hire introverted types, are you giving them the space to relax? If not, their satisfaction and productivity may drop over time. Same goes for extroverts: are they getting restless in an office that’s too quiet?

It's also worth asking:

  • Are your employees are being challenged enough?
  • Are their career goals in line with those of the business?
  • Does the social environment of your staff feel right?

Each of these issues can cause friction if they’re not addressed properly. Dissatisfaction and lack of motivation will increase the probability of employees taking extra time off (maybe even looking for a new job).

Mental health support in the workplace

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Sometimes our mental health requires a bit of time and space to recover.

Thankfully, there's progress in this area, and companies are recognising the effect it has on the company’s bottom line.

The CIPD’s People Managers’ Guide to Mental Health is a great introduction to this important area. According to the guide:  

"a Mind survey found that one in ten employees rated their current mental health as poor or very poor. Of these, 26% said this was due to problems at work and a further half said it was due to a combination of problems at work and outside of work; 40% said they had taken time off as a result. We have seen employers begin to act on mental health; however, only 49% of employees felt their employer supports their mental health – so there is still work to be done.”

The report suggests a number of ways that managers can support their employees, track absence and deal with it fairly and effectively. It's worth a look for any manager.

We hope you found this useful. Some time soon, we'll dive into an equally important topic - absence caused by non-sickness issues, and what you can do to mitigate it. Give us a tweet if there's anything you'd like to know.

Main Photo: Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash.