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Recognise patterns of absence

If you have noticed a pattern of absenteeism, you may need to follow a more structured approach to find out from the employee whether there is an underlying issue impacting on their attendance that you can help with.

Some things that you may wish to think about:


  • Review the employee's attendance record for the previous 12 months
  • Book a meeting room or a private space, and organise to meet with the employee on the first day back at work, or shortly afterwards
  • Consider if HR should attend the meeting

During the meeting

  • Welcome the employee back to work. Explain the purpose of the meeting and encourage a two-way discussion
  • Identify the cause of the absence, explore ways this can be addressed in the future and ensure the employee is ready to return
  • Discuss whether adjustments can be made to alleviate issues impacting on the employee

After the meeting

  • Make note of your discussions, covering all the points raised
  • Consider any reasonable adjustments you can make
  • Determine whether you need to deal with the poor attendance as a performance or engagement issue
  • Continue to monitor the attendance, and take further action where problems continue or return

It's important to record absences and their reasons so you can identify any patterns or triggers. It could be as simple as recording the information in a personal spreadsheet or speaking with your HR area to see whether they can provide any assistance with extracting the data you need.

An employee may take leave due a number of reasons. This could include:

  • a new manager
  • new role or employee they have to work with
  • major workplace changes
  • performance management issues
  • being ill or injured
  • leadership engagement

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. It could signify an issue concerning one individual or a much larger issue across your team. Managers need to hold employees accountable and have honest discussions with the employees, particularly when the absence is recurring.

Spotting problems early will enable you to put the right support in place. To do this you'll need to:

  • know your agency's policies and procedures regarding leave usage
  • review the absence history of your employee regularly and look for any patterns
  • discuss anything you notice with your employee to identify underlying causes and
  • discuss health and wellbeing and encourage the employee to be aware of looking after themselves physically and mentally.

Catch up with the employees on their return from leave

As a manager, you are in the best position to determine how to structure each discussion to suit the given circumstances. Be mindful, respectful, sensitive and considerate.

The objectives of having a quick check-in conversation following short term absence are to:

  • welcome the employee back
  • check that the employee is ready to return, and has not come back too early
  • seek the cause of the absence and give the employee an opportunity to highlight any relevant issues
  • offer solutions to any issues raised and where appropriate, refer to employee assistance programs (EAP) and
  • agree to a review period and/or any actions required, if appropriate.

The above is not an exhaustive checklist. Most times, people will be forthcoming with information if you just simply ask:

How are you doing? Are you ok to be here? Is there anything I can do to help?

If you have noticed a pattern of absence you may wish to have a more formal conversation with your employee.

This is a return-to-work conversation, not a disciplinary hearing. If taking action to manage underperformance becomes appropriate, deal with this separately, and in accordance with your agency's procedures.

Understand the signs of a mental health condition

Three million Australians are living with anxiety or depression. The reality is someone in your workplace will be experiencing some form of mental health concerns. It is not a manager’s role to diagnose and treat mental health; however they can play a vital role in recognition and support.

If a manager is concerned about an employee’s mental health, these are some of the signs to look out for:

  • Obvious changes in behaviour, such as decline in work ethic
  • Emotional responses and erratic behavior
  • Increase in workplace conflict
  • Disengagement in work and social contact, such as reduced participation in work activities
  • Unable to concentrate
  • Physical symptoms including constantly tired
  • Lack of attention in personal grooming
  • Increased unplanned absence
Last reviewed: 
19 December 2018