Managing employee absenteeism during the flu season

Guest Blog from Shakira Joyner of HCHR


The flu season is well and truly upon us with predictions for the rest of this winter at all-time high. According to the Guardian: “Although flu cases are higher than at any point since 2010/11, health officials say it is still not an epidemic.”


Unfortunately, even though there are many genuine cases of employees suffering from flu and needing necessary time off work to recover, there can be just as many cases of employees jumping on the ‘flu’ bandwagon just to get a bit more time off work! The result for business owners is an impact on productivity which in turn can affect staff morale, as the pressure mounts on those still at work to meet essential deadlines.




Impact of absenteeism during the flu season


It’s always a dilemma for business owners when it comes to encouraging employees to come to work with minor bugs. The goal is to achieve the right balance between sickness absence management and presenteeism, which is when an employee comes to work feeling under the weather and so does not function properly.


Minor illnesses such as cold, coughs and the flu account for as much as 30% of sick days in the UK, and so are the most common reasons of absenteeism from the workplace.


Employers need to take a pro-active and preventative approach when it comes to educating their staff on how prevent getting ill during the winter season and what your expectations are if they do fall sick. For people who may vulnerable to getting the flu, you should encourage them to have an annual flu vaccine offered by all GP practices.


Some pharmacy chains, like Lloyds Pharmacy, offer larger organisations the opportunity to set up a flu vaccine clinic in the workplace whilst Boots offers corporate businesses in-store flu vaccinations for free.


Avoiding the spread of flu


Flu is very different from a cold. Many people claim they have flu when in reality they are just suffering from a common cold. Identifying whether an employee does have flu may not be easy if they hide the symptoms from you. However, anyone genuinely suffering from flu will be feeling very, very poorly and unable to work productively. So, if you believe an employee is suffering from flu, you should always encourage them to go home and recover or they could find themselves becoming even more sick as well as the running the risk of the illness spreading throughout your workforce.


You can’t do much to stop people catching colds; you can however do as much as possible to stop the bug from spreading. Remind people about hygiene basics such as washing their hands and providing sanitisers in washrooms.


The objective for every business owner is ensure all their employees are working to capacity. Ignoring flu symptoms in the workplace is not the best way to deal with potential absenteeism. You should encourage proper recovery and, if necessary, make a small investment as outlined above to help with prevention to stop a single case of flu from spreading throughout your team which in turn will impact on your business.


Effective absenteeism management


Employers generally need to be sensitive and understanding when dealing with employees suffering from flu; but they also need to be discerning when it comes to minimising the impact of sickness absence through robust data based information. It is well publicised that short term absences have much more of a detrimental effect on the business that long terms absences.


When an employee phones into work saying they have flu, managers need to follow their in-house sickness and absence policy, including return to work interviews once the staff member comes back. If an employee is off for just one day, then the chances are that they are don’t have flu but could just fancy a day off!!!


A data-based absence management system will show an employer patterns of behaviour among individuals and teams and identifying any repeat offenders who take Mondays and Fridays off on a regular basis. With accurate data, the employer has a case to question the offending employee about his or her absence levels and even, if necessary, issue a warning to that employee regarding absence levels.


The reason that return to work interview are so important is mainly because it’s easy to hide behind a phone call but harder to lie face-to-face. An interview may also flag up any underlying issues such as stress or family problems which then make the absences easier to understand and to deal with.


Free E-book

HCHR has developed an e-book, entitled ‘Managing Short Term Absence – A Guide for Managers and Business Owners ‘, which is free to download from our website (click here).


Author: Editor

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