EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT SICKNESS ABSENCE

A simple guide for NHS managers

WHEN STAFF CALL IN SICK

Your response when a staff member calls in sick can make a big difference to how they feel about their work.

All you need to know in 30 seconds

As a manager part of your role will be to occasionally deal with staff sickness. The way you respond when staff call in sick can make a difference to how they feel about work. It could even affect the length of this, and future, absences. 

Your role is to be supportive while ensuring you have the information you need to keep things running. 

Always ask your staff the following questions: 

  • What’s the reason for the absence?
  • How long do you think you’re likely to be off?
  • Is there any work you’ve been doing that needs to be picked up while you’re off? 

Listening is key. Put yourself in their shoes and think about how you might feel and what you would want your manager to say and do. 

Make sure you log the absence and the reason so that if a pattern develops you will be able to identify and evidence this.

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STAFF FREQUENTLY OFF SICK

Spotting problems early will enable you to put the right support in place.

All you need to know in 30 seconds

Short-term sickness is a period of absence lasting less than 28 days. Frequent short-term sickness absence can be disruptive to teams and services. It can also indicate a bigger problem with an individual or wider problems within your team.

Spotting problems early will enable you to put the right support in place. To do this you’ll need to:

  • know your organisation’s policies and procedures for sickness
  • review the absence history of your staff regularly and look for any patterns
  • discuss anything you notice with your staff to identify any underlying causes
  • if there are underlying health problems, or this is suspected, refer to occupational health (OH)
  • discuss health and wellbeing in supervision and encourage staff to be aware of looking after themselves physically and mentally
  • if no underlying issue is evident, you should be clear with your staff member that their attendance needs to improve, how this will be measured, and the consequences if it does not.

If you do find a pattern, discuss it with your staff member. Often, just having a conversation is enough to alert staff to the need to address any underlying causes or behaviour. You may need to communicate practical issues with the team, but be mindful of confidentiality when dealing with individual cases.

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STAFF WITH LONG TERM SICKNESS

Your role is to support your staff to maintain a connection with the workplace.

All you need to know in 30 seconds

Long-term sickness absence is usually defined as a period of absence lasting more than 28 days. Long-term sickness absence can be a difficult time for both the affected staff member and you as their manager. Your role is to support your staff to maintain a connection with the workplace. You also need to make sure their work is picked up and this doesn't have a detrimental effect on the service, as well as ensuring that your organisation is doing all it can to facilitate a return to work.

For a continuous absence lasting more than 28 days:

  • Make sure you have been given a fit note from the doctor explaining the absence and the length of time your staff member is likely to be ‘not fit for work’, then send this as soon as possible to your payroll department so that the record of absence and pay will be correct. This is important for monitoring sickness and ensuring budgets are correct.
  • Keep in touch and agree with your staff member when and how frequent your catch ups should be and in what format.
  • Cover the employee’s workload by delegating to existing staff, or recruiting additional staff. Reassure the employee not to worry about their work being covered.
  • Find out your organisation’s policies and procedures for supporting and managing long-term absence.
  • Learn about the condition affecting your staff member and seek advice from charities and support groups as to how best support them.
  • Plan for their return to work, make reasonable adjustments and identify their options if they are unable to return to their original role or work environment.
  • Work with HR and OH at all stages, they are a great source of information and support.
  • Be aware of redeployment and ill-health retirement options if a return to their role is not possible.

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In this section we look at some of the most common reasons for sickness in the NHS:

  • Mental health
  • Sickness and diarrhoea
  • Cancer
  • Colds and flu
  • Staff who are carers
  • Stress
  • Musculo-skeletal disorders


In this section we look at the ways in which you can support your staff while they are off sick

  • Maintain contact
  • Using your occupational health service
  • Rapid access to treatment
  • Impact on the team
  • Fit note, sick note
  • Ill health retirement

This section looks at the range of options available to managers when supporting a staff member back to work

  • Making reasonable adjustments
  • Health and safety
  • Fit note, sick note
  • Infection prevention
  • Rapid access to treatment
  • Phased return
  • Using your occupational health service
  • Return to work meeting and plan
  • Redeployment
  • Risk assessments

In this section we look at the ways in which you can prevent absence:

  • Health and safety
  • Sickness absence coding
  • Appraisal
  • Resilience
  • Role of the line manager
  • Effective management
  • Using metrics
  • The NHS Staff Survey
  • Engagement and communication
  • Presenteesism