CIPD: Managing absence effectively

Posted on November 10, 2016 by guest blogger Jill Miller - Research Adviser at CIPD

We know line managers are the critical nodes in organisations, translating the organisation strategy into business operations and implementing the people management policies in practice. But how much are we investing in their development and ongoing support to do this most effectively? This question is especially pertinent when it comes to managing absence. How prepared are your line managers to manage absence effectively?

We know line managers are the critical nodes in organisations, translating the organisation strategy into business operations and implementing the people management policies in practice. But how much are we investing in their development and ongoing support to do this most effectively? This question is especially pertinent when it comes to managing absence.

According to the 2016 CIPD/Simplyhealth Absence Management survey report, more organisations are now recognising the important role of the line manager, with a higher proportion this year rating 'giving line managers primary responsibility for managing absence' and 'giving sickness absence information to line managers' among their most effective approaches for managing both short- and long-term absence.

However, this recognition of their role is not accompanied by training and support to do it most effectively. This year less than half of the HR professionals surveyed (44%) said their organisation trains managers to handle short-term absence, a drop from 52% in 2015. And just 38% said managers are trained to manage long-term absence (down from 45% in 2015).

Moreover, this year a smaller proportion of organisations are reported to provide tailored support to line managers when needed (for example online support or a care conference with HR). Twenty per cent provide tailored support as a method for managing short term absence, down from 26% in 2015, and 25% as a method for managing long-term absence (34% in 2015).

In short, this misalignment of increased recognition of the pivotal role of line managers and decreased investment in developing their capability and confidence needs addressing. But why is providing training and making tailored support available so important?

  • Line managers are often the first point of contact for employees when they have an issue, so need to feel adequately equipped to be able to have the necessary conversations with anyone in their team, and to do so effectively. 
  • And as line managers are typically the people in the organisation who see or speak to employees on a frequent basis, they are ideally placed to spot any early warning signs of issues, such as people coming to work ill, consistently working late, or generally behaving out of sorts. Training should provide them with the tools to have a constructive conversation with members of their team to address issues they notice and also ascertain if reasonable adjustments to the work or working arrangements are needed.  
  • However, training can't cover every eventuality, it may be some time between receiving training and an issue emerging, or an issue may be particularly complex. Therefore tailored support needs to be available for line managers to seek advice and guidance on a particular situation.
  • Managers may avoid addressing an issue if they do not feel confident or capable about what to do, or concerned about what they are or aren't allowed to say, and feel the support for them isn't there. With adequate provision in place, they can address an issue effectively.

What other factors need to be in place to get maximum impact from investing in line manager capability to manage absence?

  • Ensure the people element of a line manager's role is built into the job role, as opposed to it being an 'add-on if there's time'.
  • Regular one-to-one conversations between line managers and each of their team are important for a multitude of reasons, including providing an opportunity for employees to raise any issues they think their line manager should be aware of. A wider workplace culture of well-being will help reinforce an open environment where people feel able to do this, knowing they will be supported and that their well-being will be taken seriously.
  • Regular communications to the whole workforce about the well-being benefits the organisation offers will ensure people know both what's available to them and how to access them. Creative approaches to communication can help reach a diverse and geographically-dispersed workforce.

To further explore our survey findings and the implications for employers, download the survey report.

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