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Common Reasons for Absence

Information on the most common reasons attributed to staff sickness absence.

When managing employees , you may become involved in helping to rehabilitate and redeploy staff. This could include:

Common reasons for absence within the council include:

  • Mental health: while mental health can seem like a difficult subject to tackle, you don't need to be an expert in mental health to help your staff but you do need to be able to have an open conversation and support staff
  • Stress: can lead to long-term illnesses such as anxiety and depression and therefore you should set aside some time for staff to have regular catch-ups to discuss workloads and stress management
  • Infection: covers things such as diarrhoea, vomiting, cold, flu's, shingles etc.  Dependant on the illness, infection control may be required in which staff need to remain off work for specified periods.  This is not recorded as sickness but quarantine periods
  • Musculoskeletal disorders (MSD's): includes back, arm and neck pains and diseases of the joints etc. MSDs can be caused by work-related injuries, such as incorrect handling techniques or not having the correct equipment. Refer the employee immediately to physiotherapy to hasten their recovery and prevent a potential long term absence
  • Cancer: being diagnosed is a life-changing event and can cause many other problems for employees.  It can be difficult to talk about cancer, but you don't need to be an expert in counselling; just listening to your employee helps, and enables you to arrange for extra support and any adjustments they may need. 
Mental Health

While it is sometimes seen as a challenging issue to talk about, you don't need to be an expert in mental health to support your staff. However, you do have a key role to play in improving mental wellbeing in the Council. 

Mental health can fluctuate along a spectrum in the same way that physical health can, and there may be times when it is better than others. Mental health problems should be supported in the same honest and consistent way that physical health problems are. This includes making reasonable adjustments where appropriate and signposting staff to the various supports available in Employee Health and Wellbeing.

You can create and maintain positive mental wellbeing in your team by:

  • giving staff control over how they deliver their work where possible
  • monitoring the workload of staff, to ensure what they are expected to deliver is realistic within the timescales, and that resources are available
  • being fair and consistent in dealings with staff and applying Council policies and procedures. You should take account of individual circumstances but overall be consistent so that all staff feel fairly treated
  • informing staff about Council or team changes, and explaining the rationale for actions and decisions taken
  • encouraging open and honest communication, by creating a culture where people are treated with dignity and respect, and bullying and harassment is not tolerated.
  • encouraging staff to talk about mental health, and creating a safe environment for staff to disclose their own mental health problems
  • encouraging staff to ask questions and have discussions during periods of change, even if not all the information is available. This can alleviate rumours and allow staff to vent feelings in a safe environment
  • being clear and consistent about the kind of reasonable adjustments available that could support staff
  • considering early referral to occupational health, physiotherapy and/or employee assistance programme (EAP)

Although stress itself is not an illness, prolonged exposure to unmanageable stress can lead to long-term illnesses, such as anxiety and depression. Therefore managing stress is a key part of your role in creating a mentally healthy workplace.

Having open conversations with staff about their stress can make a big difference to how well they are able to manage it.  Be clear about the reason you are speaking to the member of staff, as well as emphasising that you are talking to them to support their wellbeing.

It is important for you to be seen as approachable and make time for your staff. Have protected time when staff can speak to you, as well as regular one to ones.  One to ones with staff are an opportunity to start a conversation about managing stress and for this to be seen as a normal part of line management.

You can support your staff to manage stress by:

  • monitoring the workload of your staff to ensure it is manageable; this will help you staff identify and manage their own causes of stress in the workplace
  • encouraging staff to have a good work-life balance, including being involved with social events and physical activities, which are shown to boost staff health, team work and mental wellbeing
  • promoting and educating staff about relevant Council policies, such as flexible working, flexible retirement etc.
  • treating all your staff consistently and fairly, and providing positive feedback to them when they do a good job
  • making staff aware of the internal resources that are available to them such as OH and Counselling
  • signpost staff to the various resources in Employee Health and Wellbeing
  • following-up problems on behalf your team as soon as they arise

Infectious (communicable) diseases are caused by micro-organisms such as bacteria, viruses and fungi. Many infectious diseases are more common amongst children and the elderly as their immune systems tend to be weaker. It is very important to protect yourself wherever possible by appropriate immunisation and vigorous hygiene measures (e.g. frequent hand washing).

Most common types of infection include:

  • Sickness & Diarrhoea: if an employee has these symptoms and work in a care environment such as schools and care homes or are involved in food preparation then advise them to:
    • stay off work until they have 48 hours symptom free
    • seek medical advice if they feel very unwell, preferably via phone
    • avoid visiting hospital or a GP surgery where possible as this could spread infection
    • avoid preparing food that others will consume until they are 48 hours symptom free
    • drink plenty of fluids to counteract the dehydration these symptoms cause
    • follow cleanliness advice
  • Cold and Flu's: frontline workers are more likely to contract colds and the influenza virus than the general population. The proven and most effective method to prevent catching the flu is to be vaccinated annually. Access to the annual flu vaccination is available to vulnerable groups as per the NHS guidelines.  If Heads of Service deem it appropriate then each Service can arrange for all other staff to access the flu vaccination by contacting HR ASAP.
  • Shingles: is an infection that causes a painful rash that is caused by the chickenpox virus.  Employees should remain off work if their rash is still oozing fluid (weeping) and cannot be covered or until the rash has dried out.  The employee is only infectious to others while the rash oozes fluid.
  • Other infections: As well as providing general hygiene standards, NHS lothian's has provided a summary of recommended periods of absence for communicable diseases to prevent the spread of these infections. 
Musculoskeletal Disorders

Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs) include back pain, arm or neck strains and diseases of the joints. MSDs can affect all parts of the workforce, and can be caused by work-related injuries, such as incorrect handling techniques or not having equipment personally adjusted for the employee.

Early intervention can make a big difference in shortening the employee's recovery time and preventing a potential long term absence. word icon Physiotherapy Referral Form - Connect Health [42kb] can provide prompt support to staff in order for them to return to work. .

To help prevent work-related MSDs and long term absences:

  • encourage your staff and their safety representatives to tell you when MSDs start to develop
  • review your risk assessments regularly and when necessary
  • regularly check accident and sickness data
  • respond promptly when someone reports a MSD
  • have information and advice on MSDs on hand
  • refer to physiotherapy services if necessary
  • use all available information to identify measures that will enable you to reduce the risk to employees and others
  • arrange modified working when necessary (rehabilitation and redeployment) to help people stay at work until they are fit to resume their usual job

There are more than 100,000 cases of cancer diagnosed every year within the working-age population of the UK. Many of these people will continue to work during their treatment, and return to work after they recover. However being diagnosed with cancer is still a life-changing event and can cause many other side effects such as depression and anxiety. People taking care of those with cancer can also develop health problems, due to emotional strain and physical exhaustion.

Take time to talk to and listen to your employee. Although cancer can be difficult to talk about, and you may be unsure of what to say to support your employee, you don't need to be an expert in counselling to help. For many people dealing with cancer, just knowing that colleagues are there to support them can be a great help, and what really matters is that you are ready to help your employee when needed, with time to listen and the ability to arrange extra help where required.

Understand that each case is individual with different and often complex needs - there are no words, actions or situations that work for everyone. Each employee will require tailored and personalised help. Listening carefully will help you to offer the right support to your employee; if you can't provide certain help or advice, find out who can offer this support in your organisation and arrange for it to happen.

Always talk through the options with the employee to plan the best way forward. You can put your employee at ease when you talk to them by:

  • giving them your full attention
  • having the talk in a calm, quiet and relaxed environment, free from interruptions
  • letting the employee lead the conversation and encouraging them to talk
  • not rushing the conversation
  • trying to keep the conversation as supportive and positive as you can

Offer your employee services they might need such as: workplace adjustments, time off, or counselling. Contact HR and OH to find out what help they can offer your employee.  Please remember although a terminal illness prevents the employee from being progressed through the Supporting Attendance at Work formal Policy & Processes, you should still be maintaining regular contact to ensure they have all the information they can to be make informed choices.

Macmillan Cancer Support has many useful sources of information and help freely available on their website MacMillan Cancer Support. They have also produced this helpful guide about managing cancer in the workplace