During an absenteeism meeting, you as manager, HR employee or business manager discuss the (repeated) absence with your employee in a warm yet professional manner. In doing so, you focus on a relationship of trust while also setting out several clear agreements.

The meeting does not serve to control or blame an absent employee, but to show sincere attention and to identify the underlying causes of absenteeism. These causes may be on an individual level, but also on a departmental or organisational level. The aim is to have a positive discussion about the possibilities of returning to work as soon as possible.

Absenteeism meetings are part of clear procedures for reporting sickness. These agreements lower the threshold to return to work and can reduce avoidable absenteeism.

When do request an absenteeism meeting?

Absenteeism meetings are useful at different moments and for different types of absenteeism.

  • Prior to reporting sick leave: keep an eye on things and speak with an employee demonstrating unusual behaviour such as frequent leave days, decreasing productivity, lack of concentration or a scattered, sad and stressed impression.
  • When an employee reports sick: during the first meeting, follow up on the practical aspects, estimate how long the sick leave might last and indicate that the employee is important at work.
  • During the absence: monitor the development of the employee’s health situation to avoid them becoming alienated from work. This is particularly important in the event of a long-term absence and will encourage the employee’s return to work.
  • When the employee returns to work: expose possible connections between work and the absence (e.g. job content or relationships on the work floor), ensure that it is easy for the employee to resume their tasks and make agreements to avoid any further absences. It is best to follow up on an employee who has been absent for a long time to see how he or she is doing.

Tips for warm yet professional absenteeism meetings

No two absentee meetings are the same. Numerous factors play a role: the absent employee, the 'absenteeism phase' within which the meeting is held, the length of the absence (long, short, frequent or sporadic)... Nevertheless, the tone of every absenteeism meeting should be warm yet professional: support is accompanies by clear procedures and responsibilities. These three rules of thumb will help.

  1. Listen in an open and non-judgemental manner
    Give the employee as much opportunity as possible to tell their story without prompting. Take the time to listen carefully; deeper-lying problems are often hidden between the lines.

    It's best not to let any frustrations show in your tone of voice, even if you suspect that the employee is taking unnecessary sick leave. When returning, show interest in the employee's situation.

  2. Search together for causes and solutions
    Ask the right open questions. As an employer you are not allowed to inquire about the nature and cause of the actual sickness. Therefore, if possible, approach things from a broader angle: ask about working conditions, the atmosphere at work, job content, etc. This may reveal structural difficulties in the workplace, for example if several people say that the work pressure is too high. Also inquire about other possible absence triggers.

    Then look for solutions together. These solutions may be individual, such as adapting an employee’s package of tasks, but they may also be collective. By providing options for some employees, you may also help other colleagues who are facing similar challenges but have not yet reported sick. Job rotation, ergonomic changes and training courses can all help to prevent absenteeism.

  3. Make clear agreements
    The effectiveness of absentee meetings stands or falls with this third rule of thumb. While the previous two tips focus on warmth, a professional aspect is also crucial. You balance the listening ear with clear agreements. If you do not establish any agreements or if you forget to communicate them, you run the risk that the meeting will not have any impact on the behaviour or perception of the employee in question.

    This applies to all sort of absenteeism. Short, one-off absences primarily require practical measures
    1. Who will follow up on the present matters?
    2. When will the employee return?
    3. Also inform colleagues and the personnel department of any agreements that have been made.

In the event of longer or more frequent periods of absence, work together to integrate the solutions you have come up with into a clear action plan. Make sure that the employee has understood the agreements properly to avoid misunderstandings at a later stage.