Absence due to sickness is a challenge for any company no matter what time of year it is; but the winter time seems to bring a completely different type of wipeout with it that leaves some businesses struggling to pick up the slack when multiple employees are at home with the flu. 

Being ill is an unavoidable truth. Some lucky few people manage to waltz through the year without a single sick day on their records. However, that isn’t the case for the majority of us who seem to drop like flies when the first inkling of the cold or flu starts making its rounds around the office. 

Every winter, it’s the same story; someone starts sneezing in the office and before you know it, half of your employees are unwell. This not only lowers staff morale (no one wants to get sick over Christmas), but as an employer, you also don’t want to lower productivity levels due to a large amount of sick days being taken by your staff. 

The Impact on Staff Sickness on a Business

According to statistics from 2018, sickness absence costs UK employers around £77 billion each year. A study of almost 32,000 workers across all UK industries also revealed that employees lose, on average, the equivalent of 30.4 days of productive time annually due to sick days, or underperformance in the office as a result of ill-health – the results of which being high levels of productivity loss across all sectors and organisational sizes, despite some variation across industries.

Our Top 10 Tips 

Unless you’re gifted with magical powers, it’s pretty unlikely that you will be able to do anything to prevent colds and flu from spreading around in the workplace. But there are certainly some things you can do to minimise the risk of your staff getting to the point of having to take time off. 

While you’re at it, you should also introduce some policies (if you don’t already have them) to make sure that both you and your staff know how to handle sickness when it occurs. Check out our top tips for keeping your staff and workplace healthy in winter.

Ensure your Attendance Management Policy is Thoroughly Developed

Your staff need to be aware and understand the company’s attendance management policy. All members of staff need to know the exact route to take if they are ever sick or are in a situation which is preventing them going into work, such as who is the first point of contact, what time they need to be contacted by and what information they need to provide.

Consider Non-Medical Absences and Include these into your Attendance Management Policies and Procedures

In the winter months the weather may play a big part in employees being unable to attend work, do your employees understand the procedures if they are absent for non-medical reasons? Your policy needs to also highlight the rules for when someone requires time off for dependants.  If staff members are aware of the circumstances when requiring time off for dependants they will be less likely to give a false reason for their absence, such as sick leave, which will also affect the company’s absence statistics.

Set Yourself Realistic Targets

You will need to set targets to measure your absence levels and it’s a good idea to make your employees aware of this too. It is important to measure how you’re doing to spot any improvements.


Following the previous point once you measure your staff attendance you will be able to analyse this information and see and identify any patterns or trends. Spotting patterns may allow you to plan for future absence and prepare help prepare for shortages which will also minimise the impact on your business.

Staff Involvement

Ensure all managers/supervisors in the business are aware of the absence management process so that they can act as ambassadors for the procedures. They should also have direct access to the absence statistics to see any immediate issues that may arise and resolve them early. 

Return to Work Discussion

This could be your most effective tool, it is important to carry out return to work discussions after every absence, regardless of the length.

Setting Trigger Points

Measuring staff absence is important also because it enables you to set trigger points. This will inform you when absences become unacceptable for any trend you may set for example more than a certain number of absences over a certain time period. This will also allow you to take a more formal route. – Unsure about trigger points? Check out Staff Squared to find out how it can help you to stay on top of your employees’ sickness levels.

Be Proactive with Long-Term Absence

Long term absence is anything 4 weeks and over. Make sure you keep in regular contact with the team member checking they are ok. It might be a good idea to meet with them, get a real understanding of the situation and establish when they may return to work.

Be Aware of any Long-Term Damage

In the case of long-term absence, seek the advice of a medical professional to establish any possible long-term effects.

Be Proactive

If your staff are going to get sick, there’s nothing that’s going to stop it – especially when you consider that you have no influence outside of the office. However, looking after them can help reduce absence levels in the first place. If you are aware of certain trends in your employee absence such as high levels of sickness due to flu, you may find it beneficial to look into flu vaccinations for staff members.

Other ways you can help to minimise the risk of sickness amongst your staff include:

Help staff to keep kit and healthy: Encourage your staff to get fit and eat a healthier diet if you want to stop the spread of colds and the flu in the workplace in winter. People who exercise regularly are less likely to be infected with cold viruses; in fact, they reduce their chances of getting ill by 50%. Additionally, eating plenty of vitamin-rich fruits and vegetables, such as oranges, apples, kiwi, broccoli, and spinach will help to boost your immune system. 

To get your workplace up and moving, you can arrange lunchtime activities for your employees to take part in, such as group gym sessions, a run or jog around a local park, or even football games. You should also encourage your workforce to keep hydrated and make sure there are no excuses to not eat healthily by having a regularly topped-up fruit bowl.

Encourage staff to wash their hands: ‘Coughs and sneezes spread diseases’. Someone coughs or sneezes without their mouth being covered, the infection-causing germs end up sitting on any nearby surfaces, and the germs then infect anyone else who touches the surface within the next two hours or so. It might seem like an obvious one, but encouraging your employees to wash their hands regularly is one of the best ways to remove these germs and prevent colds from spreading in the workplace. Consider providing hand sanitiser in addition to soap and stick up some posters in bathrooms and kitchens with steps showing how to properly wash your hands

Clean your office equipment: Germs that cause colds and the flu can live on surfaces for at least two hours,so it’s vital to regularly clean anything your employees come into contact with on a daily basis. This applies to office equipment, such as computer monitors, keyboards, and phones, as well as desks, chairs, door handles, light switches, microwaves, kettles, and any other surfaces that are frequently touched.

Bring plants into the office: There are many health benefits of office plants. Not only do they effectively reduce mold, bacteria and dust levels, but they lower CO2 and remove everyday toxins from the air (which is emitted by a range of materials found in the workplace, such as facial tissues, paper bags, paper towels and paint, as well as printing inks and electrical office equipment).