What to Do When Employees Are Taking Too Many Sick Days

“What do you mean you’re not coming in today?”

Not the response we would recommend but at times I can understand it. Absent employees result in lost sales, poorer levels of customer service and increased stress on the people who are at work.

The recent survey by Angus Reid on behalf of Kronos International highlighted the increase in Canadians faking sickness absence. Further details are available via this link.

So what can be done?

Absence Policies

Keep them up to date and ensure they are adhered to. Managers need to be trained on what the process involves and techniques needed to adopt a uniform approach in order to avoid inconsistencies.

Employee Assistance Programs

Phoning a medical professional or trained counselor rather than the line manager can produce a significant improvement in absence figures. Often operating on a 24/7 basis, such programs are often less expensive than expected particularly for larger employers.

Employee Surveys

Use surveys to assess the level of employee engagement and take action to improve it if it is lower than ideal. Sometimes employees prefer face to face discussions or anonymous suggestion boxes to the completion of surveys.

Flexible Working

With the improvement in technology employees who are sick can sometimes work from home. This will reduce the chance of infecting co-workers with viruses and bugs, whilst because many illnesses result from childcare and increasingly elder care responsibilities this means that at least some work can be undertaken. Passwords and security precautions may need to be reviewed so that files and documents can be accessed securely.

Health & Well-Being Initiatives

Proactive schemes which focus on diet, exercise and sleep prove to have a positive impact on sickness absence. Shower rooms to encourage cycling, gym memberships, subsidized yoga classes and substance abuse classes have all proved to be cost-effective solutions for our clients in the past. Obesity is likely to increase in the coming years as reported in this CBC article. Prevention can be the best treatment and cost effective solution to rising health care costs.

Incentive Schemes

One of our clients finds that the summer period is a quieter time at work, so they enter all employees with a 100% attendance record over the preceding year into a weekly draw. The successful individuals then arrange on a rota basis to take off Friday afternoons, and although some critics may feel uncomfortable rewarding workers for coming to work it works exceptionally well in certain cultures.

Key Performance Indicators for Managers

Making managers responsible for sickness absence proves to be a very effective way of dealing with this issue in my opinion. Covering absence at performance review, assessing absence when considering promotions or offering a bonus can achieve the desired effect.

Return to Work Interviews

Ensuring that return to work interviews take place for all absence emphasizes the significance of the impact involved. Managers need to be trained and then monitored to make sure this happens in the right way every time.


Measuring absence and focusing directly on the dollars lost tends to result in sick days being reduced, sometimes quite significantly, in the workplaces where we typically get involved. Adopting a fresh approach that suits the culture and budget of the specific organization can produce a dramatic improvement in a short time.

This is a guest post by Timothy Holden, Founder of Toronto Training and HR, a provider of HR Consulting and Training services. Timothy is a regular contributor to Pivotal Post and has written popular articles such as 7 Signs Your Employees May Be About To Quit and 10 Hidden Return-On-Investments (ROIs) HR Delivers.

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