I have been asked to provide answers to FT readers’ management questions. This was my response to a question about managing excessive sick leave.
You may have not spoken to your team member before because you have been avoiding confrontation. By holding a difficult, but sensitive, conversation with your employee you will be reasserting your authority with her and the rest of your team.
First of all you need to try to find out what might be behind your team member’s behaviour. Does she have a real health issue that she needs support with? Does she have some other difficulty that she hasn’t disclosed but needs time off for? Your approach needs to express your concern: you’ve noticed that she’s been taking a lot of sick leave. Is she OK?
Is there anything else going on that she needs your help to manage? Would she like to be assessed by your company doctor? By approaching the subject in this way, you are trying to gain her trust and let her know that you want to help her to solve her problem.
Whether or not your team member opens up, you can then explain to her, in factual terms, the impact her time off is having on her colleagues and on you. You must refrain from being critical or expressing resentment. Just stick to the facts – “when you are away, the rest of the team have to pick up your work which puts added pressure on them”, “when you are away, it makes it hard for me to plan the team’s work”.
Handled sensitively, you are likely to get one of three responses from your team member. She may tell you about a deeply personal issue that she has been struggling with and has been afraid to mention previously, allowing you to work out how to help her to manage this issue and keep working. Alternatively, she may apologise for the problems her behaviour has been causing, of which she was unaware, and will commit to playing her full part in the team.
Or, she will know that you will no longer tolerate her behaviour and will decide to either toe the line or leave.