Reporting time off - the impact of employee/manager relationships

Main themes

How employee/manager relationships can impact:

– The accuracy and consistency of absence recording
– Employee health and wellbeing
– An organisation's legal standing

NB: this article was written before FirstCare rebranded to GoodShape on 30.10.21

Relationships play a huge part in our working lives. In terms of absence, both the good and the bad can create ugly situations that can have a lasting impact.

According to FirstCare’s data, stress-related absences that are attributed to work make up just over 10% of all absences. These won’t all be caused by the manager, but in cases of good and bad relationships, the biggest challenge is the unknown.

We see these issues a lot where absence isn’t accurately recorded. The disparity between a true absence baseline and what’s recorded is 18%, on average.

Let’s take a closer look at the impact of the quality of the relationship between employee and manager.

The Good

Having a close relationship, or even just a good one, with your manager can be such a positive influence on your career. A mentor and maybe even a friend in a position to aid you in achieving shared business objectives.

When it comes to sickness absence, the positive nature of this relationship can be a hindrance. We’ve seen some situations that would make your hair curl:

  1. A branch of a business where they have a sickness rota; by that I mean “Greg, it’s your turn to take a week off sick”.
  2. Managers who ‘forget’ to record absence to avoid triggers being hit by a friend/employee in their team.
  3. An organisation where an occupational health day one response to mental health issues was in place and the OH Service Manager had just heard about an employee who’d been off for 6 months, because their line manager was ‘handling it’.

Line managers have a central role to play in absence management but keeping absence hidden from their organisation, or not telling the whole story, can be very damaging due to:

  • The employee being deprived of support services that would help them
  • Trust being lost
  • Compromised consistency
  • Increased risk
  • Pay being incorrect
  • Absence data being incorrect / inaccurate, skewing analysis

A healthy relationship is great but, as a manager, don’t let it compromise your responsibilities to your employer and your obligations to your employees.

The Bad

The challenges posed by a weaker relationship are easier to identify, causing different problems for your business. Managers may:

  • Show less care, which can result in decreasing motivation for the employee and potentially extending an absence
  • Be more suspicious of the employee and record their perceptions rather than the facts
  • Lack soft skills, required as a manager, leading to broader employment relations problems, such as grievances.
  • Not recording the absence due to poor organisation
  • Delay referral to support services

Should matters evolve to Employment Tribunals then, in worst-case scenarios, an organisation’s position could be hindered. This is because of inaccurate and inconsistent recording, which could result in an incorrect ruling, due to poor duty-of-care stemming from the manager’s approach at the first point of the absence being reported. 

Having a neutral party, who has no relationship with the unwell employee (avoiding embarrassing discussions), who has the time to ask the right questions, who is focused on wellbeing, taking absence calls for your employees means absences are diligently recorded. The manager can focus on a call purely to talk about their wellbeing at a point later in the day when they have more time to show due care and attention. This approach removes the risk introduced by the employee/manager relationship when recording the absence and ensures the employee’s journey back to full health, then back to work, starts from the minute they record their absence.

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