An Effective Way to Deal with Absenteeism


Absenteesicknessism, or staff sickness, is a serious problem for many organisations. In the UK alone, staff sickness is responsible for 30 million days off work per year, costing £130 million. So it’s definitely worth considering how to deal with this absenteeism!


I distinguish between two types of absenteeism:

1. Sickies, or duvet days.

Incredibly, 1 out of every 8 sick days are sickies, i.e. the employee was not ‘really sick’! Yes sometimes it’s because they had too much to drink the night before, or there is an important rugby match to watch … But really, sickies are mainly taken because people feel undervalued, demotivated, or disengaged at work.

2. Poor wellbeing, both physical and psychological.

You may think ‘Ah well, if they’re sick they’re sick’. And of course we have little control over the common cold!

But, and this is a big but, we can reduce both sickies and poor wellbeing!

The evidence shows that when wellbeing goes up, employee engagement goes up … and when employee engagement goes up, wellbeing goes up …. so then employee engagement goes up … and wellbeing …. it’s a great non-vicious circle!

So how does increasing employee engagement help?

  1. When staff are engaged they are eager to get to work, where they feel valued and motivated to do well.
  2. When staff are engaged, they are less stressed, more positive, and more resilient. This means better psychological wellbeing. Plus, this improved mental state buffers against physical ailments, so physical sickness goes down.

Experts recommend wellbeing initiatives. And I am all for them … indeed, we have a great staff wellbeing plan at Zenith!

What I would say is that, wellbeing initiatives as a stand-alone plan have little value. This is because staff go back to their teams, to the same pressures, and to the same management style … and within a few weeks everything is back to square one!

If you want to lasting change you need to invest in managers, as they have significant influence on the team. So my biggest take-home message today is this:

Equip managers with coaching skills: So they can enable staff to be effective, while also ‘looking after them’. There is nothing woolly about this: When you manage people well, they enjoy working for you, they feel satisfied with their job, and they do a great job.

So, in a nutshell:

  1. Absenteeism is a problem.
  2. You can do something about this problem.
  3. Besides investing in wellbeing initiatives, also invest in coaching skills for managers.

We would love to partner with you to deal with absenteeism in your organisation. Get in touch to discuss how we can help you.


Dr Sharon Xuereb is an employee engagement specialist and a psychologist. She has developed a 20-item questionnaire to help you identify your strengths as a manager.



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