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Manage recurring sick leave systematically

Expert tips


How do you work to prevent recurring sick leave and avoid it turning into extended sick leave? As a manager, it is important to consider how you handle and reduce repeated sick leave in your organisation. Here, you will receive expert advice on how to go about achieving this.

Currently, there are many factors at play that make sick leave difficult to predict. At the same time, statistics from the Swedish Social Insurance Agency (Försäkringskassan) show an increase in sick leave due to stress.

High sick leave rates make it challenging to schedule your workforce and maintain stability in your operations. It can also disrupt production, increase costs, and create frustration among other employees whose workload increases.

– Already after three absences, the risk of extended sick leave increases. The most important thing you can do as a manager is to recognize early signs of ill health in your employees and follow up regularly, says Anna Sporrong, Senior Rehab Consultant at Falck.

The recommendation is that you work systematically with sick leave, having clear routines that are well-established throughout the organization.

– The routines should not only exist on paper but should also be practiced and followed in reality, adds Anna Sporrong.

Portrait of Anna Sporrong, Rehab Coordinator at Falck
Anna Sporrong, Senior Rehab Consultant at Falck

Have a balanced long-term perspective

If the goal is to reduce sick leave in your organization, it is important to work long-term. Strengthening the well-being of employees and the workplace will not happen overnight. Base your goals on your specific operations and focus on the steps you need to take to achieve them.

To work long-term, it is important that you gather sick leave statistics and define the frequency of sick leave that triggers action as a manager. Many choose to intervene every six months to catch issues early.

A good way to address employees is through what is called "caring conversations". Here, you approach your employees with care rather than questioning. The purpose is to understand the employee's situation and collaboratively determine what can be done to reduce sick leave for the employee as well as any necessary organizational adjustments.

Document the conversation so both parties can remember what was said and what was agreed upon. Also, plan for a follow-up after three to six months, depending on your routines.

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Follow-up is crucial for your employees and the organisation to thrive in the long run.

Get to know your employees

When you, as a manager, know your employees well, the chances of spotting early signs of ill health increase. Having a good relationship with your employees also increases the likelihood that they will turn to you with problems.

– To catch early signs, keep an eye out for unusual behaviors. If you have regular everyday dialogues with your employees, you will know them in their 'normal state' and can then detect deviations, says Anna Sporrong.

As soon as you notice that something is off, take action by asking. It does not even have to be related to sick leave.

– The best case scenario is to help individuals before they even get sick, says Anna Sporrong.

Maintain contact with employees on sick leave. Studies show that continued contact has a significant impact on sick leave length. When contact is lost, time away from work often becomes unnecessarily prolonged.

Policy in practice

Your policy determines how you handle sick leave in the workplace. It dictates how you work, how follow-ups are conducted, which conversations are required, how it should be documented, and more. Ensure that your policy is up-to-date, clearly describes your procedures, and that they are actually followed in your day-to-day work.

An important consideration in policy development is how you define recurrent sick leave. Are you looking at the number of occurrences, i.e. recurrent sick leave, or the number of instances of sick leave up to 14 days, i.e. recurrent short-term sick leave? It's up to you as the employer to determine which definition you use, as long as it is applied equally for everyone in the workplace.

Another point to review is how many times an employee needs to be absent for it to be considered recurrent sick leave. This was regulated by law until 2007 but is now up to the employer to decide. Many measure based on either four times in six months or six times in a year. Establish the frequency at which you, as a manager, should intervene and also follow up at that frequency.

How our rehab coordinators can help

  • Analyze sickness absence statistics
  • Review of existing procedures and policies
  • In-depth mapping of the causes of repeated sick leave
  • Train managers

Feel free to contact our rehabilitation coordinators and get more information in our latest free webinar on Falck Play.