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Peter Jones of The HR Dept

Managing staff sickness in cold and flu season – The HR Dept

Peter Jones of The HR Dept stifles a sneeze and urges business owners to draw up a sickness policy.

As the sound of sneezes ring out around the office, the weather closes in and it’s still dark when your alarm clock goes off in the morning, it means one thing: cold and flu season is upon us. And to that we must add Covid-19.

If the past year is anything to go by, that means you are going to experience heightened staff absence over winter – unless you do something about it.

On average, workers took 7.8 days sick leave in the last 12 months. That is the highest since 2008.

As a proactive employer, there is a good deal you can do to head off staff sickness absence, though. So let’s take a look at some of the steps you can take.

Have a strong sickness absence policy… and enforce it

An absolute foundation of your approach to managing sickness absence is to have a sickness absence policy. This should outline who employees should contact to notify an absence and how they should do so; as well as what your sick pay policy is – statutory or something more generous – and what happens when they return to work.

Insist they phone their line manager when not coming in – not text or email – and that a formal return to work interview is always conducted after the absence. This sends out a strong message that while it is okay to be off sick, you have robust policies to ensure all sickness is genuine.

Ensure that you record sickness absence

Recording sickness absence is essential. It allows you to monitor apparently excess absence, and observe suspicious patterns of sickness – such as frequent Mondays or Fridays absent, for example – to inform you when disciplinary action may be needed.

Depending on the complexity of your business, specialist HR software can be a great choice for this.

Offer a company flu jab, and/or other health benefits

As you probably know, when someone gets proper flu, they are really ill. They will probably be bed-ridden for at least a week, and even then not be back to full fitness for another week or two.

This may make the modest cost of the flu jab for your team well worth paying to reduce the chances of such impactful illness hitting your operations.

While other health benefits have a perception of coming with a higher price tag, this is not necessarily true.

It is all relative, of course, but a benefit like a health cash plan offers excellent value. It is attractive to staff, coming with discounts on certain private treatments; and, for you, helps them get back to health more quickly if they take up the medical access it offers. If you have the budget, private medical insurance provides the most firepower for combatting ill health in your team.

Flexible working

Whether you are a fan of flexible working or not, remote working may be an invaluable tool to maintain productivity during cold and flu season.

Not only may it be the measure that keeps an employee who is too sick to commute, but well enough to work remotely, productive; it will also stop the spread of germs in your workplace, reducing the chances of the rest of your team falling sick. This is especially the case with Covid-19 cases on the rise again.

Flexible working does not work for every business, or every employee. If you don’t embrace flexible working normally, now might be the time for a temporary compromise, though.

Peter Jones runs the HR Dept in Swindon and Wiltshire https://www.hrdept.co.uk/swindon-north-wiltshire-east-cotswolds/

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