How to cope when an employee calls in sick

Using proper planning, temp agencies, and telephone answering services to cover absent employees

For small and medium businesses employees taking sick leave is always going to be a problem. It might be alright for big companies who can share out the work load, but in small businesses a surprise absence can create a big headache. The important thing to remember is these problems are always solvable, and through proper planning and good relationships with temp agencies and telephone answering services, you can accommodate these inevitable days off.

Prevention is better than cure

First things first, before you work out what you’re going to do when someone does call in sick, why not do everything you can to reduce the number of staff who call in sick. This removes the problem of arranging cover or telephone answering services completely, and puts you back in control. There are a number of things you can do in advance to help reduce the number of sick days your staff take.

  • Create a company policy on sick days – The important thing to bear in mind with this one is that you don’t want to turn it into a witch hunt. People are going to be ill, and it doesn’t benefit anyone if you make them feel bad for it. However, proper sick day policy will encourage people to come to work if they can, and should help reduce the number of people taking fraudulent days off.


  • Implement flexible working hours – Sometimes people might find out they have a surprise interview, an emergency doctor’s appointment, or have to stay at home to look after one of the kids. If your standard holiday policy doesn’t cover this, people are more likely to phone in sick. Allowing flexible working hours means people don’t phone in sick, and they can work those hours back for you.


  • Rewards programs – By rewarding staff who achieve perfect attendance for a year, they are more likely to make the effort to come in. Make it a really good prize like a holiday and you’ll find your need for temps and telephone answering services will reduce dramatically.


If you can do these things in your business then chances are you’ll have fewer people taking time off sick and you’ll be less likely to find yourself on the phone to your local temp agency or preferred telephone answering service first thing on a Monday morning.

Failing to plan is planning to fail

There will come a time when you’ve done everything mentioned above, but despite your best efforts a staff member has phoned in sick. This is always going to be an issue for small and medium businesses so it’s important to have a plan already in place when this happens. It might be cross training staff, or it might be having a good relationship with a UK call centre who provide telephone answering. Here are just a few of the things you can do to make sure you’re ready when a member of staff phones in sick.

  • Evaluate what kind of business you are – The process of planning for staff absence can vary greatly from business to business. If you’re an online retailer with primarily admin and warehouse staff, you can easily find warehouse day workers or outsourced telephone answering to handle your calls. If you’re an employer with highly skilled workers you need to make sure there are other people available with those skills. This could mean cross training staff, or establishing a good relationship with a specialist agency.


  • Establish relationships in advance – If you’re one of the companies mentioned above who is lucky enough that they can outsource cover for absent staff, you should still know who you will outsource to in advance. When it comes to things like call handling, telephone answering services can vary greatly. By establishing a relationship in advance with a call handling service you can be sure your customers will receive the same level of service they would get from your own staff. Good relationships with agencies and call handlers ensure you get the best cover for your absent employees.


  • Look internally for relevant skills – These days it’s quite common for people to work in a number of different jobs and have had a number of different career paths. You may not know it but your junior sales assistant could have history working reception, or your cleaner may have had a past life as typist. As reliable as temp agencies and out of house call handlers can be, you never know which existing staff members can provide good cover in a pinch.


It’s always worth having a good plan of action in place for when a member of staff does call in sick, and as the list above goes to show, you will be surprised how easy it is to find good cover whether it’s in house or with a third party provider.

And when all else fails…

So what happens if you’ve planned as much as you can but employees are still calling in sick? Or if margins are so tight you just can’t afford to pay for cover staff?

When sick leave is a recurring problem, permanently outsourcing the position could be an option. Some roles such as a receptionist or PA can easily be outsourced to a call handling service. A call handling provider will employ more than enough staff to cover their own odd days of absence, and best of all they remove the headache of dealing with staff sick days yourself entirely. Outsourcing may be a drastic step, but in some cases it’s the right one.

While employees calling in sick is always going to be a chore for small business owners, with good planning there’s always a way to solve the problem. Illness affects us all, so be understanding and work with your staff to make sure your absence procedure is as fair and effective as possible.


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