Employee sickness: How can managers ensure they’re adopting the right approach to leadership?

Insight shared by:

Gateley Legal, Kiddy & Partners & t-three

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Research from CIPD and Simplyhealth has found that UK employees were absent an average of 7.8 days over the past year due to sickness – which is the highest rate seen in 10 years, a full two days greater than the pre-pandemic record of 5.8 per year.

What is more telling from the research is the reasoning behind much of the absence reported, as 76% of respondents took time off work for stress – with heavy workloads and management style the most common causes of that stress-related sickness.

While ‘management style’ is highlighted as a standalone reason for work-related stress, it also plays a big role in the stress caused by heavy workloads, as a manager’s readiness (or otherwise) to show compassion and support for an employee struggling with a busy workload can be a huge factor in whether an employee sinks or swims when faced with a busy period.

Based on this, it’s clear that a sizeable proportion of the time UK employees are absent due to sickness is avoidable if the right management styles are adopted to manage employees. But what are the management styles that leaders should be adopting, and avoiding, in order to create a happy and healthy workforce? Here, Laura Whitworth, director at t-three and Kiddy & Partners, explores.

“In terms of approaches to leadership that work well in creating a happy and healthy workforce, ‘authentic leadership’ is a great starting point. This is a transparent and values-driven approach that builds trust, fosters genuine connections, and prioritises the well-being and development of the team. When employees feel their manager is being authentic it builds trust and open communication, which in turn should allow them to feel confident to raise any concerns about workloads and other work-related stresses.

“Similarly, ‘inclusive leadership’ promotes employee well-being by creating a supportive environment where diverse perspectives are valued, fostering a sense of belonging and reducing the impact of biases on individuals, for instance those who are struggling with workloads or external stresses impacting on their ability to work to their full capability.

“In addition, ‘servant leadership’ enhances well-being by prioritising the needs of employees, fostering a collaborative and supportive work environment, emphasising empathy and personal development. As with ‘authentic leadership’ this will create a culture whereby employees feel they can be open with their manager if they are struggling with stress, and a good manager should be able to support the employee in managing and hopefully eliminating the stress, therefore reducing absenteeism.”

As for the leadership styles to avoid if you’re looking to create a happy, healthy and present workforce – Laura says there are a few that are all too common which can have a sizeable and lasting impact on employees’ stress levels and mental health, often leading to increased levels of sickness absence amongst a team.

“An obvious one to avoid is ‘micromanagement’, which is characterised by excessive control, close supervision, and an overemphasis on detailed tasks, limiting employee autonomy and initiative. This harms employee well-being by creating a stressful and demoralising work environment, eroding trust, stifling creativity, and impeding a sense of freedom and job satisfaction.

“An ‘autocratic leadership’ style is also one that can cause undue impact on employees, where a manager makes decisions without much input from the team, maintaining strict control over the decision-making process. This can be very demoralising as employees may feel undervalued and excluded from decision-making processes, which can lead to feeling a lack of purpose at work and can sabotage an employee’s well-being, impacting on their performance and may ultimately lead to absenteeism.

“While there isn't a specific leadership style termed ‘status-driven leadership’, we often witness leaders who prioritise maintaining their social status over team well-being. This often fosters hierarchical and less collaborative work environments, potentially diminishing employee engagement and satisfaction.”

Laura’s expertise shows that a collaborative, open and inclusive management style is the best approach to take in order to keep your workforce engaged, motivated and happy – and if there are concerns from employees about their well-being or workload, these type of management styles create a culture where employees are confident in discussing their issues, which will likely mean they can be dealt with without the employee needing to take time off sick.

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