Practical tips on how to resolve the analysis black hole

If managing absence is part of your role, you’ll be all too familiar with the top three reasons for its occurrence:

  1. Musculoskeletal injuries.
  2. Mental health problems.
  3. Other or unclassified reasons.

There are many well-documented ways that your organisation can provide support to employees to help reduce instances of absence caused by musculoskeletal injury and mental ill health.

But what about number three? How can you develop and implement solutions to reduce absence based on data that – by its very nature – cannot be analysed?

We’ve set out to unravel the circumstances that lead to an absence being recorded as “unclassified’ – and give you the tools you need to ensure that your organisation doesn’t get drawn into the black hole of useless data.

Why are some absences recorded as “unclassified”?

Let’s first explore some possible scenarios that lead to an absence being recorded as “unclassified”:

  • An employee is unwilling to divulge the reason for their absence.
  • The line manager doesn’t have the medical expertise to categorise the absence.
  • The manager doesn’t have enough time to understand the predominant reason for an employee’s absence.
  • The manager’s central focus is on finding the cover to maintain operations.
  • The manager takes the sickness call while they’re away from their desk and has forgotten the reason by the time they return.

Any one of these situations can lead to the failure to categorise an absence. However, if a significant proportion of your organisation’s absences fall into the “unclassified” category, it’s likely that many of these circumstances are occurring simultaneously. And that means that you need to consider reviewing your processes.

We’ve put together some practical tips designed to help you do just that.

1 – Ensure your employee provides a reason for their absence

In the UK, we’re lucky in the sense that we’re allowed to ask an employee to explain the reasons that they’re not in work. Indeed, for many organisations, this is written into policy.

If your employee is reluctant to divulge the reason, it’s likely to be sensitive or embarrassing. In these circumstances, the line manager should:

  • Give the employees their complete attention.
  • Reassure them that your organisation will be in the best position to give them support if they understand the reason they’re unable to come into work.

If they’re still unwilling to explain the absence, the next step is to ask whether there’s anyone they would be happy to talk about it with, such as someone in your HR or ER department.

2 – Ask the employee to call back later in the day

You want to do the best for your business. However, if you – or the line manager in charge of taking the absence call – are caught unexpectedly, the focus on the short-term issues created by an absence can overshadow your employee’s health. It’s also possible for calls to come in while you’re away from your desk.

In these cases, the best thing to do is ask the employee to call back. Remember, while the employee may want to rest, they’ll have spare time that you don’t. When you ask the employee to call back, you (or the line manager) will be able to:

  • Deal with the immediate circumstances caused by the absence, including arranging cover if necessary.
  • Be relaxed and focused – and in a position to take notes if necessary – when they do call.

In these circumstances, you’ll be able to record the reason for the absence accurately.

3 – Consider outsourcing to an absence management expert

Of course, there may still be circumstances where a lack of formal medical training prohibits you (or your line manager) from categorising an illness.

It’s in scenarios like this where the benefits of outsourcing your absence management to an expert like FirstCare are immediately evident. When you opt for our Complete Support service, every absence is triaged by nurses, who:

  • Use their medical experience to categorise every illness.
  • Have the time to understand and advise employees on their health issues.

The nurse will record the absence, providing powerful data that is analysed by our team of experts. In fact, we have a fantastic track record of significantly reducing instances of “unclassified” absence.

Longstanding client Philips recently trialled our nurse-led service in a challenging area of its business – with the outstanding results demonstrating the effectiveness of our Complete Support module. In just six months, they reduced short-term absence due to colds and flu by 31% and stomach-related complaints by 22% - equating to a 28% overall reduction. (You can read the case study in full here.)

Ultimately, accurate data is essential, but reducing instances of “unclassified” absences is just the tip of the iceberg. Once you have the data, analysis is key to delivering the insight you need to tackle the broader absence issues across your organisation. And that’s what you’ll get with our Complete Support service.

Discover more success stories here and keep up with our quarterly data analysis of absence trends across the UK via the FirstCare Index.