lady ill in bed with a cold and tissue in her hand

Know how to prepare for an increase in Winter sickness absence

Each Winter we normally see an increase in sickness absence due to winter viruses, such as colds and flu. However, this winter COVID may increase that. The Government is already considering implementing a COVID winter strategy which may include face coverings being compulsory in some settings, granting powers to introduce vaccine passports and encouraging people to work from home.

According to GPs, sick note requests have risen by 78% – and sorry to say, but as we head into the winter, that figure will no doubt rise.

It is important that employers are prepared for a possible increase in their sickness absence this winter. So, what can employers do to prevent an increase to sickness and manage sickness absence at this time of the year?

Here are some things to consider: –

  • continue to encourage staff to have their covid vaccination and also to have the booster vaccine, when offered.
  • where possible continue working from home or consider going back to work from home if staff have returned to the office. You could also introduce a hybrid working arrangement where less staff are in the office at any one time. Having a contingency of being able to work from home, will avoid any major disruption to the business.
  • consider a contingency plan in the event that too many staff are unable to work due to sickness (or self isolating and cannot work from home). For example, are your staff flexible enough to be able to cover in other departments or do other tasks that they would not normally do. Do you know which tasks are a high priority and which tasks can wait or be delayed in being carried out.
  • do your contracts of employment support such flexibility of redeploying staff, increasing their days or hours or asking them to carry out other tasks?
  • keep safety measures and risk assessments updated. This may include reintroducing social distancing, improving ventilation, mask wearing and avoiding too many staff in one area at a time, such as the staff canteen or kitchen.
  • review your Managing Sickness Absence Policy, or if you haven’t got one, now might be the time to get one drafted (which Hill HR can help you with).
  • encourage staff to stay away from the workplace (or work from home) where they genuinely have illnesses, such as viruses or colds, which could be passed through the workforce. If staff are infectious, they should stay at home.
  • look at things such as sickness notification – do you ask staff to phone in sick? If you don’t and staff are allowed to text, stop that practice and ensure they phone their manager. That way the manager can discuss their absence, find out how long they might be off and any work that needs picking up in their absence.
  • do you hold return to work interviews? Holding a short, informal meeting is a great tool for managing sickness and sending out a message that you are monitoring absence. The individual is required to discuss their sickness absence with their manager.
  • do you monitor and analyse sickness absence? Using a trigger such as the Bradford Score can help identify those who have persistent, short-term absence. You can also analyse trends or patterns, such as sickness after or before a weekend.
  • sometimes an issue at work (or home) can be disguised as sickness absence. Therefore, create a positive working environment and encourage your people to come to you when they need to discuss problems. 

You may also wish to take things a step further and support staff by providing health cash plans. This is where staff can claim back money on their day-to-day medical appointments such as dental, optician or private physiotherapy treatment. This is a great, affordable staff benefit.

If this is something that interests you, please get in touch with me.

Can Hill HR help?

Hill HR can draft a new Managing Sickness Absence Policy or review your existing one.

If you’re dealing with high levels of sickness absence or wish to be prepared for the winter, we’d love to help you. Simply contact us to arrange a conversation or why not book a slot in my calendar for a quick chat.