Absence Management – Is there a one size fits all?

Sick lady

Absence Management is a headache for all business owners and managers. You understand that your staff will be off work from time to time, but, excessive absence can end up costing your company a significant amount of money.
Many companies struggle to implement procedures that adequately protect their business while making their employers feel trusted.

As HR and Employment Law specialists, we field a lot of questions on the issue of absence management. For example:

• What’s the best way?
• How do other companies do it?
• Are my policies too lenient/tough?

Every organisation is different and will experience its own unique challenges. As a business, it is important to understand what motivates and drives your employees to work to the best of their abilities.

Common Approaches


Some organisations benefit from having a rigid absence management in place. An example of this could be a company who use the Bradford Factor, this is a points based system where a ‘score’ will be calculated based on the number of days and the regularity of absence.

Once a ‘score’ is reached, sanctions will then be imposed, e.g. a written or verbal warning.

Hands On

The structured approach doesn’t work for every business and many businesses are moving towards a hands on approach.

Return to work interviews will instead be used after an absence to try and understand the reason for an employee’s absence. The benefit of these interviews are that employers can discuss in depth why an employee has been unable to come into work. This will allow them to get to the root of any issues or problems before they go any further, for example a lack of motivation or drive.

Modern and flexible approaches

With flexible time becoming a legal requirement in the UK, some employers are giving their employees control over their working schedules and giving them complete autonomy.
Of course this can’t work for a large number of businesses, however, some companies are trialling the approach.

Virgin and Netflix

Virgin and Netflix have taken time-management to a different level.

Netflix’ believe in treating their employees “as adults” and give them a great amount of freedom and responsibility. They have unlimited annual leave, they can expense without getting approval from their manager and they do not have yearly performance reviews.

In 2014 Richard Branson took a leaf out of Netflix’ policies and announced that his employees at Virgin Group could have unlimited holidays with no requirement for approval or a specified return date.
Mr Branson has stated that letting employers work when they are only 100% motivated will allow the calibre of work to improve.

Clearly this approach cannot work for every business, but the idea of giving employees more freedom and responsibility has been taken on by many companies after learning from Netflix and Virgin.

So, does one size fit all for absence management?

In a word, no.

There is no such thing as a one size fits all absence management policy. Some employees will work better under a clear, robust absence management framework, whilst others will thrive on flexibility and autonomy. It really is down to the staff you employ!

It’s important for all businesses that they monitor absence to try to detect any trends. Ensure that any absence management policy is clear and understood by all employees, whilst making sure that it is applied consistently across the board. Make use of procedures such as return to work interviews and record-keeping so that you can monitor patterns and take appropriate action when necessary.

If you would like more HR advice for employers, take a look at our specific HR page.


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