• Have an effective sickness absence lead.
  • Work closely with the health and wellbeing lead.
  • Support line managers through training.

Have an effective sickness absence lead

Be clear who the lead is for sickness absence in your organisation. Whether this is someone’s specific role or part of their main duties, they will be responsible for coordinating work focused on sickness absence. This involves working with key stakeholders in the organisation and keeping the board and managers informed and involved. 

In many organisations the sickness absence lead has responsibility for taking a coordinated approach to staff on
long-term sickness. This is an effective approach as there is a known reason for absence and can be planned for accordingly.

An effective sickness absence lead will be able to:

  • drive the programme forward
  • use evidence-based strategies
  • build key relationships with a variety of stakeholders, such as occupational health, the board and unions
  • have an overall view of all current and emerging issues, for example, be able to identify hot spots, to enable a targeted approach for the organisation.

Health and wellbeing needs to be championed from the top of the organisation and is most effective when led and supported at board level. 

The board should:

  • clearly communicate the organisation’s stance and approach to managing sickness absence
  • have a regular agenda item at meetings to discuss sickness absence
  • understand how sickness absence is currently affecting staff and how this fits into the wider wellbeing agenda. 

Having a clinical lead can also help you gain buy-in from clinical staff and enable joint working when looking at solutions for supporting staff and managing absence. 

You can find out more about how to identify leaders with the right skills to champion staff wellbeing in our role descriptors for board and clinical champions.  

Work closely with the health and wellbeing lead

Your wellbeing lead will be the one to co-ordinate the overall wellbeing programme. If the sickness and wellbeing leads are different people, you should work closely together and demonstrate how sickness absence fits into the broader wellbeing agenda. 

This enables:

  • clear and consistent messages to be shared across the organisation on how wellbeing links to sickness absence
  • the development of a targeted, preventative approach by sharing key absence data 
  • a broader understanding of organisational issues.

Support line managers through training

Line managers have a significant influence on the attitude and behaviours of employees. Often line managers are trained in their specialty but not in how to support and manage staff.  

Make sure your line managers are:

  • trained in supportive conversation skills
  • supportive and have the right management behaviours to have conversations with staff about sickness absence
  • trained on the sickness absence policy and strategies.

Staff will feel valued if their line manager makes health and wellbeing a central part of their one-to-one conversations. It also enables managers to spot signs which may indicate that a staff member needs further support and encourages staff to be confident to speak to their managers about any concerns before they reach a crisis point. Our emotional wellbeing toolkit has been used by a number of organisations to support managers in having conversations with staff about their emotional wellbeing.  

Training managers to connect with the organisations objectives and how managing absence fits into the wider strategy and how it ultimately affects patient care. This encourages managers to take ownership for managing absence instead of seeing this as an HR/OH role. Find out more about line manager training

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