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Absenteeism and alien abduction 

Blair McPherson

It doesn’t really matter whether the line manager thinks the reason for absence was genuine but if you want to make a dramatic impact on the statistics then dismiss those on long term sick. Contributor Blair McPherson former Director of Community Services and author.

The most common reasons given for an unauthorised absence from work are food poisoning, the flu or the classic bad back. However some people are more inventive, like the employee who put on their return to work form, under reason for absence, ” alien abduction”. When it comes to managing absenteeism it doesn’t really matter whether the line manager thinks the reason for absence was genuine it’s all about the frequency and duration of absences plus whether there is a reasonable and credible time scale for return to work.

The most extreme example is the,” 3 strikes and you’re out” policy, no appeal no mitigation. Which certainly is effective in keeping the absence statistics very low but also results in a high turnover of staff which is counter-productive if the organisation has invested in staff development and not appropriate in an area of skill shortage. Do you really want to lose a reliable, conscious and competent member of staff just because they were unfortunate in having three periods of absence?

At the other extreme are the small number of staff absent for over 3 months who account for a disproportionate number of days lost. Tackling long term absences – usually defined as over 3 weeks – is the quickest and most dramatic way of reducing absence statistics. Attendance panels should focus on dismissing staff who have been absent for 3 months or over unless there is a reasonable and realistic time scale for returning to work. The definition of “reasonable ” and “realistic ” is open to interpretation but most employers are happy to extend a valued member of staff’s sick leave if they think a return to work is imminent. And yes the attendance panel will be more sympathetic to an employee absent as a result of a quadruple heart bypass operation as opposed to an alien abduction.