Practical advice on managing employee absenteeism due to illness


Kate Marsh
Head of HR Services - Strategi Solutions Group


GP’s and Hospitals across England are currently experiencing an unprecedented high rate of patients with flu, according to figures published by Public Health England.

During the first week of January, 5,000 people were admitted to hospital with flu, and in the past week alone, GP cases have increased by 78%, leading to reports that this is the worst flu season in nearly 10 years.

The winter months usually see an increase in sickness absence levels for businesses and organisations, but this latest trend is causing widespread concern for employers.


To tackle this, many organisations are having to look at temporary measures to cover for absent employees, including engaging with agencies for hiring temporary resource, which is obviously is an additional and unwanted cost.

As a more cost effective remedy to this, organisations could also consider cancelling planned annual leave and reorganising work amongst other colleagues, to keep disruption to a minimum.

However, with absence management, prevention is usually better than cure. Whilst this epidemic is prevalent, a proactive approach, would be to offer where possible, flexible working. By allowing employees to work from home, this will decrease their chances of contracting the virus in large, open plan working environments. Furthermore, if an employee is feeling under the weather but not incapable of work, they may still be able to be productive from the comfort of their own home.

Other methods that can be used to prevent the spread of germs and subsequently keep absence levels in check, include placing antibacterial hand-gels around the workplace and offering employees vaccinations against flu. If you already have a medical benefit in place, these may be included in the scheme and should be promoted so that employees understand how they can access this. If it isn’t covered by medical insurance, you can purchase flu jab vouchers online and distribute these to employees who can redeem them at local pharmacies / approved outlets. 

Finally, if it is inevitable that you have employees absent with flu, or any other sickness absence, it is important that a return to work interview is completed when they come back. This way, you ensure that they are fit to return, understand any ongoing issues or symptoms that you may need to be aware of and support the employee with managing, giving you the opportunity to discuss the merit of any temporary adjustments to help facilitate and sustain the return to work.