10 Smart ways to modernise absence management

At DHS, we believe effective workplace absence management can empower your organisation to transform workforce wellbeing and productivity, cut costs and boost the bottom line. 


Unfortunately, all too often managing absence gets put in the ‘too hard basket’, as something very difficult to manage or change. If left unchecked, it can have adverse impacts across a business and escalate chronic workplace health and safety issues, toxic cultural environments, stress and mental health issues, to name a few.

Begin modernising your absence management initiatives today with the following tips:

1. Start with top-level strategy

As a starting point, your organisation needs to proactively engage its senior leaders in a strategic absence management approach, which aligns with wider business goals and objectives. 

A strategic approach is important for:

  • Increasing awareness of absences costs, both direct and indirect
  • Creating a higher-level organisational purpose focused on improving employee wellbeing, productivity and engagement measures
  • Engaging senior leadership to sponsor the program and lead by example
  • Ensuring systems and reporting processes and management practices are aligned to positively shift an organisation’s absence culture

2. Implement an absence tracking and reporting system

Real-time tracking of absence with a specialist live tracking and reporting system can be one of the most effective ways to gain control of absenteeism and modernise your workflows. 

Benefits include:

  • Real-time absence information: Supports operations and supports early intervention
  • Benchmark absence rates: Focuses efforts on key areas/teams 
  • Individual absence records: Drill into individual absence records that provide actionable information
  • Reasons: Understand why employees are taking time off with detailed reason analysis 
  • Management: Monitor manager activity, such as compliance to completing return-to-work interviews
  • Prompt management discussions: To proactively review employee absence 
  • Evidence storage: Upload supporting evidence and/or attendance plans 
  • Payroll integration: Live absence data feeds to reduce administration

3. Create a culture where employees actually look forward to work

Absence management requires a layer of cultural support where workers feel safe, secure and nurtured in their work environment – and actually look forward to coming to work. 

Strategies include:

  • Ensure regular leadership communications with employees, including video chats where appropriate
  • Provide reassurance about job security and KPIs. Facilitation of ongoing workplace relationships through special formal and informal remote meetings and events 
  • Give support and listen with empathy 
  • Provide further resources and support services where necessary 
  • Recognise achievements and hard work
  • Encourage work/life balance

4. Centralise your absence reporting

The provision of a dedicated Absence Line to report an absence 24/7/365 allows employees to make one call to report an absence, speak to someone about their absence, and ensure absence information is correctly captured. 

Benefits of this approach include:

  • Early notification alerts of absence sent in real-time 
  • Consistent communication of policies and procedures 
  • Accurate data reporting and data collection 
  • Human interaction is more robust than leaving a message or sending an SMS
  • Immediate and confidential advice and support for employees

5. Invest in 24x7 Employee Health Support

Many organisations operate around the clock.
We also know in the post-pandemic era that most absence is for genuine reasons and often for mild and moderate illnesses that can be effectively managed over the phone by trained Telehealth Nurses. 

Benefits of this approach include:

  • Health advice and guidance for employees 24x7 
  • Early intervention for cases, such as mental health and minor illnesses 
  • Referral to EAP and other support services 
  • Ongoing support during absence


6. Absence Management Training

Having absence discussions with your employees can be challenging. But our research shows that consistent management discussion and communication following an absence achieves improved attendance levels over time. 

Developing manager's capability to understand how to handle discussions and identify strategies to improve attendance is critical. Training will support manager engagement and improve the outcomes of discussions. 

Top tips include:

  • Understand different return-to-work conversation techniques 
  • Provide clear guidelines about roles and responsibilities, following each absence occurrence 
  • Develop problem-solving abilities to improve future attendance 
  • Have the ability to track return-to-work discussions online 
  • Monitor the compliance of managers across the organisation 
  • Send reminder alerts to managers to complete interviews in a timely manner
  • Tailor discussions based on the levels of employee absence

Find out more about absence management training in our free webinar.

6. Consider the return-to-work (RTW) interview

To manage patterned leave, research indicates that the single most effective action to re-engage and re-motivate an employee and reduce absenteeism is to consistently conduct a return to work (RTW) interview. There are both formal and informal interview types, depending on the length and duration of the absence. 

Early intervention is key, and line managers need to know the levels of absence that require escalation and have clear guidelines on what they are required to do, so they can effectively support policy and procedure. To help scale efforts, consider outsourcing your RTW strategy to a specialist expert.

Return-to-work interviews are not disciplinary sessions; rather they have a range of positive objectives, including:

7. Escalate chronic or complex cases

Around 10% of employees will take over 20 working days of absence a year. These individual cases can become extremely complicated – and outside of the remit of an employee’s direct supervisor. There is immense value in having a system to automatically trigger alerts to senior leaders, human resources, or occupational health to support specific cases.

It is best practice to: 

  • Define absence trigger alert points, such as days lost 
  • Use a Bradford Factor to quickly identify high frequency, problematic absences
  • Develop guidelines for management action once defined absence levels are reached 
  • Establish attendance improvement plans and track employee absence during a review period 
  • Streamline management practice and simplify workflows

8. Measure absenteeism

Accurately measuring the true rate of absenteeism may sound simple, but many organisations get it wrong. Be clear on what information you need in your absenteeism statistics and validate the calculations used to produce an Absence Rate, or Days Lost Per Employee per annum.

Recent surveys conducted by DHS found that 40% of organisations believe they under-report absenteeism by an average of 25%. In effect, the data shows 25% of absenteeism is not even recorded in the payroll or absence system. This means organisations may believe they have ‘an absence issue’, but their stats do not support the true cost of its impact.

Find out more about how to measure and calculate your absence rate with our free calculator.

9. Consider outsourcing

Increasingly, organisations are looking to third parties to enhance their programs, provide support for employees and deliver software that is modern and fit for purpose.

Outsourcing all or some of the absence management program can enable organisations to achieve immediate results including:

  • Scaling 24x7 employee care to better support all staff 
  • Access to specialist absence software systems for increased efficiency and improved reporting
  • Training support and complex case management
  • Strategy and program design

10. Discover who is getting it right, like this entertainment leader

At DHS, we pride ourselves in creating a holistic approach to absence management that consistently delivers exceptional results for our clients, helping reduce absenteeism by up to  40%. Here are some examples of leading organisations we’ve worked with who have reaped significant cost savings and boosted the bottom line thanks to a robust absence management program.

Early intervention plays a critical factor to keeping absence management on track in a fast-paced environment. Discover how this leading entertainment giant turned to a data-driven transformation strategy to reduce absence and boost the bottom line.

The Challenge

  • Significant growth saw the business needing a scalable solution
  • Multi-tiered and complex workplace structure needed a holistic approach
  • The fast-paced entertainment environment needed a round-the-clock program

The Solution

  • Deployment of the 24/7 Absence Management Service
  • Building of senior leader capability in absence case coaching to address more serious and complex absence cases
  • Upskilling managers at all levels in the identification and management of mental illness in the workplace
  • Aligning reporting with the company’s absence reduction targets (for example, a new “traffic light report” for senior executives)
  • Creating a rigorous management of employee return-to-work practices and wellbeing management solution

The Results

  • Reduction in absenteeism costs from 2.8% to 2.5% 
  • Improving employee engagement and overall wellbeing at work
  • An increase in return-to-work and case-coaching compliance
  • Early intervention of mental health cases and referral to HR for support

Social 3 Bottom line

Discover how DHS can help empower your business with our range of innovative solutions.

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