This school achieved a 50% decrease in staff absence – a case study
When we brought our approach to absence management to a primary school in north-west England, the impact was a “massive” 50% reduction in staff absence.
It is possible to dramatically cut a spiralling staff absence rate. In this case study, we’ve interviewed a member of one of the schools applying The Driven Employee’s approach to absence management. As you might expect given the sensitive nature of the information, the school and the member of the management team we spoke to remain anonymous in this piece, but the figures are accurate and the words in quotes are entirely the staff member’s own.
The extent of the problem
“Prior to The Driven Employee’s involvement, we had about 340 days lost to staff absence.”
“We have 45 staff at school, of whom six were or had been on long term sick. A couple had come back and gone off again. Then, across teaching and non-teaching support, we had lots of one/two-dayers. Altogether [the absence levels] had a massive impact on the school – they affected staff, budgets, workloads - everything. [TDE’s] Martin [Hughes] estimated absence was costing us £45,000 each year.
“We were already speaking to Barbara and Martin about another issue and they mentioned their new absence management procedure and suggested we look at it. With a new head coming into post, and as we were already reviewing our procedures, it seemed like an ideal time to do it.”
Implementing a solution
“To begin with we talked through the new procedure. We introduced new documentation for when someone phoned in sick. We implemented rigorous return to work meetings, including making it clear at return to work interviews how short-term illness can have a knock-on effect on the school. And we introduced new triggers, where a third absence triggers a letter from governors – and also ensures governors are aware of staff absence.
“We also had The Driven Employee come in and talk to the staff as a whole during staff meetings to explore the implications and cost of staff absence – not to name and shame, but to anonymously show the impact of what was happening.
“I think when staff saw that in black and white it was a real eye-opener.”
The school launched its revised absence management policy in June 2017, having begun reviewing its management procedures in April 2017. Since April, there has been a 50% decrease in staff absence. In real terms, that represents 127 fewer absences and a saving of over £33,000 over the nine-month period, which includes the ‘fluey’ months of November, December and January. If that trend continues for the remaining three months, the school can anticipate 170 fewer staff absences and a total saving of around £45,000 for the 12-month period. With the absence management service costing just £900 + VAT, that’s an astonishing potential return on investment of £50 for every £1 spent.
The member of staff we spoke to was candid about staff reactions to the change. “Overall it’s been positive – everyone can see the difference and feel the effect of the changes. There have been a few negative comments during return to work interviews: “We daren’t be off because we’ll be hauled in” – that sort of thing.
“Our response is ‘Yes you will’.”
These approaches to managing absence are supported by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and are best practice as highlighted in their Absence Management Survey 2016. So, although we might take issue with the use of “hauled” (return to work interviews are about understanding underlying concerns, making reasonable adjustments and reinforcing understanding of the impact of absence) the school’s new processes are proving effective.
“To date, four members of staff have had letters from governors. One member of staff has had two letters and has been informed of where that could lead – in terms of making adjustments to the role and examining whether they’re capable of fulfilling what they’re employed to do.”
Yet overall, the effect of taking a more robust approach to absence management has paid huge dividends:
“Absence has come down massively.”
Martin Hughes explained, “High staff absence is not an intractable problem. With the right framework and a robust approach to upholding it, you can reduce absence in a way that benefits everyone in the school.”