5 tips to help you manage staff absenteeism at your setting


As childcare is a regulated industry, staff absenteeism has much more of an impact than in most other businesses. Nurseries must comply with strict ratios and, if someone is off sick, the work won’t wait until that person gets back again.

In the event of that dreaded call from a member of staff at 7.30am on a Monday, settings find themselves having to deploy a number of emergency measures. Some try to bring in agency staff, but this can be both expensive and unreliable. Others may rely on the kindness of another staff member to cancel their day off and come into work.

The stark reality is that having members of the team absent due to sickness during the year is inevitable. But the good news is there are steps you can take to ensure this is managed fairly and efficiently, reducing the potential impact it can have on your setting.

Here are our 5 top tips to help you manage staff absenteeism at your nursery:

1. Get staff to identify whether their absence is due to their child’s sickness

Needless to say, many of your staff members will be parents themselves and will require time off work to look after their child. But are your employees always honest about this? Sometimes, staff will say that they’re the ones who are sick when in fact it is their child.

In an ideal world, staff would be telling you whether they’re absent because they have to look after their child, because this needs to be recorded separately to their own days off due to illness. Making this distinction will reduce the impact that this kind of absence has on your wage bill. It also means that, if your employee does manage to find childcare cover, they can come back into work that same day.

In your employee handbook, it can be helpful to outline a separate section for staff about dependants’ leave and let them know that they’re entitled to it (within reason). Being open about it in this way should deter staff from using their own sickness as an excuse when they need to take time off work to care for their child. This also means that you can track reasons for staff absenteeism much more accurately.

2. Check who’s eligible for Statutory Sick Pay – it may surprise you!

Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) kicks in after day 4 of an employee being off work due to illness, and can be paid for up to 28 weeks.  However, it may surprise you to know that apprentices are entitled to SSP, so long as they earn at least £112 per week before tax.

Unlike company sick pay, employers cannot withhold Statutory Sick Pay from their staff. Those on zero hours contracts are also entitled to it, if they earn above the minimum weekly threshold and they’ve been working for the company for the past 12 weeks.

You can use this helpful link to calculate an employee’s statutory sick pay.

3. Ask employees to self-certify their absence on their return to work

To help reduce staff absenteeism, it can be worth asking team members to self-certify their absence (even if it’s just 1 day) on an internal form which will be logged on their HR record. This form asks them to confirm the nature of their illness and asks them to sign to say they’re providing factual information.

By asking employees to certify their absences, it makes the process a little more formal. The result is that calling in sick becomes less of an attractive option for those who aren’t truly ill.

4. Follow the correct procedure to address long term absence due to sickness

Usually, anything over 4 weeks is considered ‘long term sick’ and at this stage the employer should be implementing strategies to help reduce long term absence. This can include asking the employee for an absence review meeting, where both parties discuss:

  • The employee’s likelihood to return to work
  • Any treatment they’re undergoing
  • The prognosis of their illness
  • Whether modifications can be made for them to return to work

Although it can be a difficult process to engage with, it can often be in both the employee’s and employer’s best interests to terminate the employment contract. This is especially true if there’s nothing that can be done to support the employee’s return to work and there’s no definitive and foreseeable ‘end date’ to that staff member’s absence.

5. Keep a detailed record of every employee’s absence

Tracking staff absences in a detailed way means that you can spot any developing trends more easily. For example, if you have an apprentice who’s taken every Monday off for the past month, it helps to have a written record to refer back to. This means that, when you call a meeting with her to address the situation, you can show her the pattern of absence you’ve noticed and ask for an honest explanation.

Unfortunately, illnesses spread very quickly in a childcare setting, especially when children and staff come back together again in September. If it’s not managed well, staff absenteeism can have huge impact on your business and can even end up compromising the level of care your children receive. Elsewhere, it can break bonds between team members and lead to increased wage costs. Therefore every staff absence needs to be addressed fairly and promptly, with the correct procedures followed every time.

If you’d like to find an easier way to manage all your staff information, including keeping track of absences, then why not try our award-winning nursery software?

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