How to handle staff sickness is one of those issues that often gets brushed under the carpet. It’s definitely something that requires a sensitive approach but it’s also important to establish protocols that you stick to in each and every case. There are basically four types of sick leave – short term and long term and then genuine or not. Whichever you know or suspect them to be, the simplest and most effective strategy is to handle them all in exactly the same way.

  1. Ensure that your company reporting process for sickness is adhered to. If staff are supposed to report in by 9.30am on the first day of sickness, make sure everyone in the team knows this and does so. Also make it clear that if you cannot be personally reached before 9.30am, they can leave a message and you will call them later that day. It is imperative that you speak directly with the staff member on the first day of sickness.
  2. Ask what the illness is and when they expect to return, together with any work-related issues that need to be covered during their absence. If it’s likely to be only couple of days, simply say you look forward to welcoming them back. If it is something more serious or long term, it is very important that you agree when you are next going to speak at this stage. It might be after a visit to the doctors to check on the prognosis, for instance.
  3. Stay in touch – at least weekly. Keep each conversation upbeat and positive. Ask how they are and what is currently happening. It might be the team will want to send flowers. I remember speaking to one individual who had returned to work from long-term sickness and was upset that their manager had not contacted them once during their illness, ‘It was like they had forgotten all about me and simply did not care!’ Do not be that manager.
  4. Sometimes, when ill, people lie on the sofa and rather optimistically hope they will get better soon. So you might need to encourage your staff to seek the support they need to become well – sadly we often need to make a bit of a noise within the NHS to gain the treatment we need. Emphasis should at all times be on them becoming well and ill people do not always have the strength to make a noise.
  5. If you are in doubt about their ability to return to work or are not getting any answers from them or their doctors about what is going on then don’t hesitate to refer them to Occupational Health. These are doctors who will complete a diagnosis and provide you with a report. You will need to pay for this service but it is well worth it. Introduce this as another method of getting to the bottom of any issues and identifying next steps towards wellness.
  6. When staff return to work ALWAYS conduct a face-to-face return-to-work interview. It need only take five minutes but it must happen. Do not allow them to complete a form and place it on your desk and think that is sufficient. It is not. If they are allowed to do this then throwing a sickie will be easy in the future as they know they will not have to look you in the eye while they fabricate or exaggerate elements of their sickness.
  7. Keep really accurate sickness records. This enables you to have a fully evidenced conversation if a pattern of sickness begins to occur. Often individuals do not remember how often they have been ill until you show them.
  8. Whatever your company sickness policy is, know it and follow it to the letter.

Managing sickness effectively is very simple. It is made up of small, easy actions, but each one counts. Complete all of the steps above and show that your sole aim is for them to be fit and well enough to return to work and all will be well.

To find out how Converse Well can help you turn difficult feedback situations into opportunities to motivate and engage your staff, call 020 8870 9036 or 07734 944 515 or email