To reduce avoidable absenteeism, we must refrain from turning it into a medical issue. At Mensura and Certimed, we use a positive approach to absenteeism as a substitute. This will encourage your employees to opt for employability instead of absenteeism. Employees who remain employable, in whatever form, are involved in their job, team and organisation.

The mutual relationship between employer/manager, employee and HR plays a crucial role in this. Is there a relationship of trust? Does the employee feel safe? Is everything negotiable? But equally: what are the rules for absenteeism? Are all employees aware of the rules? And if absenteeism becomes abnormal, is the employee made aware?

In other words, a positive approach to absenteeism is reliant on friendly, business-like dialogue based on:

1. Mutual trust and transparency

Does your employee have a problem at work or in private, because they may be using absenteeism as an escape route. But a trusting relationship will mean he or she will probably muster the courage to discuss this with you.

You may notice behavioural changes in your employee or within your team (for example, less job satisfaction, lack of energy, cynicism, stress, anxiety). In that case, show genuine interest and offer a listening ear. You should also make it clear right away that any discussion will be treated in confidence – nothing will be used against the employee(s). This may give the employee the courage to find a solution. As an employer you can look at ways to support your employee.

2. Clear procedures for every phase of absence

No matter how hard you work on a friendly relationship with your employees based on trust, you will not get any further without clear outlines. Your absenteeism approach is built on procedures that tell your employees exactly what to do in every situation.

Example: the sickness notification

  • If an employee is sick, then he or she needs to know exactly what to do. What is the latest time the employee can report sick? How can the employee report sick (for example, telephone, e-mail, text message)? Who should the employee notify exactly? And what if that person happens to be absent as well?
  • In addition to guidelines for the employee, the sickness reporting procedure also contains actions for the supervisor. For example, maybe the supervisor should call the absent employee on the day of absence, or maybe they need guidelines about the topics that should be discussed during such an interview.

Important: procedures should not leave room for discussion; they must be clearly communicated and verifiable. Because if a rule has been written down, it must also be possible to see whether the rule has been followed correctly. And deviations must be dealt with in an appropriate manner.

3. Numbers to substantiate behaviour

Who is absent the most? How often do absentees report sick? Do specific days or periods stick out? Does the absenteeism tend to be short or long-term? Does one department have noticeably more absenteeism days than another? Maintaining, analysing and interpreting absenteeism figures is a time-consuming job, but one that pays off in the end.

The figures will help you spot trends that you can check and remedy via absenteeism interviews. If you show your employees that their absenteeism behaviour has not gone unnoticed, you are telling them that, as their employer, you are taking it seriously.

In addition, you can frame individual absenteeism behaviour within the context of the team, department and company. By pointing out the impact on a bigger picture, you can appeal to each individual employee’s sense of responsibility.

Friendly and business-like at the same time? It’s a matter of balance

At first sight, procedures and a rational, numerical approach would appear to hinder forming a warm bond of trust. But nothing could be further from the truth. Friendly business-like behaviour is all about finding the right balance between the two.

You can build on connection and trust, but create a framework with clear agreements to appeal to responsibility and commitment. The friendly, business-like dialogue that makes this possible is the foundation of your positive absenteeism policy.