Recent research found that the number of teachers on long-term sick had risen by 5% over the last year. The research was based on data requested from 82 English councils and showed that 1.3 million days were logged as absent from school, due to stress and mental health over the last four years*. As it has often been referred to, many people believe that heavy workloads, budget cuts and recruitment difficulties have all added to workplace pressure and increased levels of stress. Absence in education (public sector) remains at a higher rate than the private sector as stated in the 2018 CIPD Health and Wellbeing Report. Mental ill health and stress remained the top causes of long-term absence. So, what can schools do to better support staff, reduce absence and increase retention?
Here at SAM, we are working with schools to improve absence management through our absence management software, reducing the impact on administration and budgets but also improving the support available to staff and ensuring the absence process is consistent across all employees. We wanted to share our top tips to improve retention and reduce costs through more efficient absence management.
Make sure you communicate and refer to your staff attendance policy
Educating staff on the absence process and the support available to them is essential. Our experience is that once the absence process is clear and being tracked with support offered, absence rates are reduced. Tracking absence and being able to see when triggers from your attendance policy are being hit, enables you to take action quickly.
Monitor trends across your school
Our clients find that once they are able to see how absence is occurring across the school, they can address issues, make improvements and plan for peaks. Being able to drill down absence information to the type of absence, staff type, time periods and line managers can direct action. For example, you could consider recruiting cover supervisors during peak periods, negotiate reduced rates from supply agencies for long-term absences, adjust leadership styles and workloads and review staff structures. If you are a Multi-Academy Trust, having the ability to view absence across your schools and compare is essential for effective leadership. Understanding where your absence costs are coming from enables you to save costs and better reinvest budget.
Apply a different process for short and long-term absences
Short and long-term absences should be dealt with differently. You will have different triggers outlined in your attendance policy and the support needed will follow a different process. Setting task reminders for short-term absences can help to keep on top of actions and get staff back to work quicker. Long-term absences are usually classed as four weeks or more. Obtaining an Occupational Health report and arranging a long-term absence review when it has been received, can help agree next steps and support the employee in their return to work. If there is a length of time between meetings, make sure the report is refreshed regularly to ascertain current needs. Tracking these cases separately will help your managers apply the correct process quickly.
Utilise welfare meetings
Carry out regular reviews with the employee, often referred to as welfare meetings, to ascertain the current state of health and readiness to return, as well as anything that you can do to facilitate their return. You should also conduct a return to work meetings for every absence. You can then consider if reasonable adjustments can be made for the employee. A reasonable adjustment could include changes to duties or working hours, or a transfer to another job. If you use software like SAM, you can assign meetings to managers and set reminders to ease the administration.
Offer support services
Work with HR to offer Occupational Health services for medical support. Being able to arrange an appointment quickly for an employee, means they are accessing much needed support earlier, they feel valued and often the stress of the situation is reduced. You could also consider making counselling services available, holding stress awareness briefings, arranging wellbeing drop in sessions or providing flu clinics.
Educate your leadership team
Providing absence management training to your leadership team and department managers ensures everyone is following the same procedures and all staff are receiving the same support. This should help leaders spot issues earlier and support staff better. You could also consider providing training such as Mindfulness and Stress Management for employees to help promote relationships at work, reducing stress.
Save time and costs by using a software system
Effective absence management can be time-consuming and often is difficult for school business managers to keep on top of. Using a software system, such as SAM, reduces the amount of time required to obtain the information you need to support your staff. SAM centralises all documentation, including meeting notes, return to work forms and fit-notes, so preparing for meetings is easier. You can also set alerts for the next checkpoint, so you don’t lose track. Action is then quicker, supporting staff better and hopefully helping them to return to work earlier. Proactively managing absence can also reduce insurance premiums.
Our clients have seen on average a 40%** reduction in absent days by applying effective management and this in turn, has an effect on reducing supply costs and improving education standards in the classroom. If you would like a demonstration of the SAM software, call 01924 907319 or request a demo
*Source: Recent research by the Liberal Democrats, https://www.theguardian.com/education/2018/jan/11/epidemic-of-stress-blamed-for-3750-teachers-on-longterm-sick-leave
** Average reduction in absence days of 40% taken from Autumn and Spring term results across 10 schools who have effectively used SAM since Sept 2015