A guide to managing unscheduled absence

Last updated: 23 May 2017

This page is: current

A managers perspective

Short term absence
Short term absence
A manager's response to an employee's absence can have an impact on the individual's engagement with work, the length of time away from the office, and future absences.

Frequent unexplained absence
Frequent unexplained absence
Frequent short-term unscheduled absence can indicate a lack of engagement. It can be particularly frustrating to plan around and is often disruptive to teams.

Long term absence
Long term absence
Long term unscheduled absence can be a difficult time for both the individual and you as their manager.

Good managers inspire their employee to perform at their best out of respect, not out of obligation.

Poorly managed absence creates productivity losses across the Australian Public Service. This toolkit has been developed to assist managers by providing clear guidance on strategies to manage attendance, boost employee engagement and support wellbeing.

When dealing with unscheduled absence, managers are encouraged to work through a process to determine if there is a problem, and if so, identify the cause of the problem and how to best respond. This includes identifying if:

  1. there a pattern of frequent short-term absences
  2. the absence related to carer responsibilities
  3. the employee seems motivated to work, but is experiencing barriers that prevents them
  4. the employee seems able to work, but not motivated
  5. there is anything they can do to return the employee back to able and motivated to work
  6. how they can manage the risk of the employee becoming not able and not motivated to work.

By working through this process, managers will be able to effectively respond to unscheduled absences on a case-by-case basis.

Within the APS, the average unscheduled absence rate in 2015–16 is 11.5 days. This is a decrease of 0.1 since 2014. It is also the first decrease following four years of increases in unscheduled absence rates. From 2011–12, the average unscheduled absence rate across the APS moved from 9.8 days per employee to 11.6 days in 2014-15.

An average unscheduled absence rate of 11.5 days is high compared with other sectors. According to one source, in 2015, the unscheduled absence rate for the not-for-profit sector was 9.8 days and in the private sector, 7.4 days.

The 2015-16 State of the Service Report shows that there is variation between agencies of different sizes. Large agencies tend to have higher unscheduled absence rates compared to medium or small agencies.

Table 1 illustrates the differences.

Table 1: APS personal and miscellaneous leave 2015-16
  Average 2015-16 leave rates Minimum rate Maximum rate Average 2014-15 leave rates
Small agencies 10.9 3.0 19.1 10.7
Medium agencies 12.0 6.7 17.5 12.2
Large agencies 12.5 9.5 14.9 12.4
Overall APS 11.5 3.0 19.1 11.6

A review of the data shows that 68 per cent of unscheduled absence across the APS is supported by a medical certificate.  This includes a large amount of leave taken by a relatively small group of employees.  However, the data also identifies a complex, but clear relationship between employee engagement and absence.  The 2016 APS Employee Census data suggests that employees with higher engagement levels take fewer days of sick and carer's leave. This is supported by industry research that provides links between an engaged workforce and its impact on unscheduled absence.

Agencies are able to influence employee engagement by developing strong leaders, effective workplace operations and by offering some degree of autonomy in the workplace. Good attendance and productive performance is fundamental to workforce capacity.  It needs to be addressed in a systemic way, with everyone on board.

Managers also have significant impact on the culture of an agency. This toolkit aims to build employee engagement and support a positive, high performance culture.  It focusses on what is best practice when it comes to managing short term, reoccurring or long term unscheduled absences, and includes:

  1. a guide for managers facing different situations related to unscheduled absence
  2. ways to promote an attendance culture
  3. a suite of resources including examples of good practice happening within the APS.