Nursery Management

Tips on Addressing Staff Absence for Nursery Managers

If you’re not careful, team members’ days off sick can damage the health of your business, says Vicky Stanton…

Do you know the impact of sickness absence on your business? Do you have a policy that helps you manage attendance effectively? If not then the health of your nursery could be at risk.

Sickness absence can and will have a direct impact on your setting. It may mean:

● Key staff are not there to provide continuity to the children.

● Additional costs if you need to bring in additional staff, particularly if you offer company sick pay.

● An impact on other staff who are left to cover duties; this can lead to loss of motivation.

The three main types of employee absence are: Occasional short term; Long term; and Frequent short term. Occasional absences are unlikely to cause a problem, so record them and don’t worry about it. Long-term absences can be difficult to deal with, and I would advise seeking specialist advice and support. You need to focus on frequent short-term absence as it’s this that can cause havoc for your business.

Dealing with absence

If you don’t have an absence policy, get one before you need it to make sure it suits your needs. Make sure all your management team are trained in how to deal with absences. Things to think about are:

● How/when do you expect a member of the team to report sick? Is text and email satisfactory, or do they have to speak to their manager/supervisor?

● How will you record absences? Every occurrence of absence should be recorded. If you don’t have evidence you can’t deal with it effectively if it becomes a problem.

● Will you take the time to conduct a return to work interview with every member of staff? If there is an underlying cause, this will help to reveal it.

All employees can self-certify up to seven days of absence and should complete a self-certification form on their return. For absences of eight days or more, the employee will need a ‘fit note’ from their GP. The GP has the option to sign the employee ‘fit for work’ or ‘not fit for work’. If the GP has advised that they are fit for work with certain conditions to enable the return, as the employer you make the decision if they are viable and workable within your business. Be mindful of sick pay issues if you refuse; if the conditions are linked to a disability there is a greater onus to provide the reasonable adjustments.

Should I tackle frequent absence?

Simply, yes, you should! Not only is it disruptive to your business but it also sends out the wrong message to your staff. It is a good idea to have a trigger point in your absence policy. If you do, make sure you do something once a staff member hits the trigger.

If you have conducted return-to-work interviews, have any patterns emerged? Is it the same reoccurring condition? Invite the member of staff to attend a formal interview with their line manager to discuss their absence. It is appropriate for this discussion to take place. Employees are paid to be present at work and if they’re not, even for genuine reasons, absences can be challenged.

It may be that during the discussions other issues are raised by the employee as to why they have been off. Be prepared to discuss ways to support the employee if you can. Be supportive but firm. You need to make it clear that attendance at work is important. Set attendance targets and any action plan that needs to go alongside them. Set a review date and monitor the situation.

If the absences continue you may need to consider moving to a formal disciplinary process, so make sure that everything you have done is documented and agreed by both manager and employee.

Often the fact that absence is being dealt with and managed is enough to resolve the issue. For longer term absences, support the employee as much as possible and as suggested above, think about getting some advice to deal with it. Don’t let staff feel isolated as this makes it very difficult at the point of their return to work. Invite them in for a coffee, if they are well enough, to keep the contact going. Just because someone is off sick does not necessarily mean they are not allowed out of their home.

And finally…

A recent study by Benenden Health uncovered some of the more bizarre excuses used by employees when unable to attend work…

● I need some days off to tend to a distressed dog.

● I’ve dropped a can of beans on my big toe.

● I am mourning the death of my hamster.

● The dog ate my shoes.

I wonder if you have any better than this?

Vicky Stanton is director of HR 4 Your Nursery, a professional HR consultancy working specifically with nursery and preschool owners and managers to take the challenge out of people management.