A guide for Human Resources

The Human Resources team is pivotal in any company in its role overseeing employee absence and well-being.  The sector of industry that the team is part of can greatly affect the different challenges which the HR team face.

We will look at the challenges faced by the non-profit sector, and how they can be supported.

The charity/non-profit sector has different concerns that the private and public sectors do not have to factor in.


One of the biggest problems faced by non-profit HR is that they are expected to perform as a corporate company would, but with the increasingly limited budgets of a charity, with every penny of expenditure being accounted for and justified.

By promoting workplace wellness, and by offering fast and efficient access to medical advice when ill, the number and length of absences can be reduced significantly.  The trends and outputs relating to overall staff absence can be obtained for you via DocHQ, helping to create not only an understanding of where absences are occurring, and which areas would be good to target, but also with providing accountability to trustees.

The median total cost of sickness absence per employee FTE in the 2017 is £843, and within the non-profit sector there is a higher amount of working time lost per year than in other sectors.  This adds even more pressure to the already tight budgets. 

For less than 12% of the amount lost through employee sickness*, you could have a system in place that will help to reduce absence.

Understanding why wellness is important to Non-Profit HR is just the first step, however.  As with the challenges faced being different depending on business sector, the types of absence also differ.  It is essential to know the most common reasons for short- and long-term absence in your sector to be able to begin supporting employees to reduce the absences.

What to do

The Third Sector peaks the tables with the amount of average working time lost per year, with a high of 4.7% in 2016.

One perceived reason for this higher absence rate is something referred to as “not a proper job” syndrome.

Not a proper job syndrome affects voluntary workers, as the lack of wages leads to a feeling that the job is optional, and therefore taking time off for illness matters less than in a paid role.  It also however occurs for the paid charity staff, particularly in the foundation level.  This can lead to paid workers needing to fill roles which usually cost nothing, or in the reverse, volunteer workers filling roles that trained paid staff are employed for, reducing overall productivity.   It is essential to emphasise to those employees that they are important, that they are worthy, and that their absences matter.

The top three causes of reported short term absences within the charity sector are:

  1. Minor illnesses (colds, stomach upsets etc)
  2. Musculoskeletal injuries such as repetitive strain, or neck strain (not including back pain)
  3. Stress

How can these be tackled?

Minor Illnesses

Two things factor in minor illness absence in the workplace. 

  1. One is the time taken to obtain medical advice when illness occurs.  Speaking to a medical professional about sickness symptoms at the start of an illness can provide care advice, allowing for a faster recovery, but often the thought of wasting time sitting in a GP waiting room, being around other ill people and catching something else, or even just “wasting” a doctor’s time can prevent people getting medical advice.  By allowing employees to have a video consultation with a trained medical professional, or even by using symptom checker to allow them to find the best person to assist them, it increases the likelihood that they will access the early support necessary to be well again as soon as possible.
  2. The other factor is presenteeism.  This is when staff attend work despite illness which should be preventing them.  Presenteeism leads to a lack of productivity (we all know how fuzzy the brain feels when we are ill, how can that produce meaningful work?), and increases the chances of other staff becoming ill, making the cycle of absence continue.  Again, by consulting with a medical professional, it can be much clearer if absence would be better than remaining in work whilst unwell.


Musculoskeletal health within the workplace obviously differs based on the type of work, but the key things are the same across the board for supporting employees and helping to reduce issues.

1. Talk with employees

You cannot know what problems there are, or what is causing them, without communication.  Talk.  Find out where the issues lie, and then address the best ways to fix them, be it changing work stations, how breaks are planned, or encouraging movement throughout the day.

2. Communicate that you need to be told

It doesn’t matter if the injury occurred in work, or outside of it.  The injury itself is what matters.  Ensure that employees inform you of any problems so that the work environment can be altered if necessary, to minimise further damage, and to aid recovery.

3. Obtain medical advice

If there is an MSK issue, contacting medical advice is vital to learn the best way to treat it.  Online and telephone consultations, or dedicated occupational therapy, can increase recovery speed, and minimise time off.


Stress affects all areas of our lives and bodies.  It can cause headaches, muscle pain, chest pain, stomach upset and sleep problems amongst other physical things.  It can cause anxiety, depression, and anger.  It can affect behaviour.

By realising how far reaching the effects of stress are, it is essential to acknowledge how much damage stress can cause.

  1. Communication is key to helping with stress related illnesses.  For more advice on how to encourage more openness in the workplace, please read here.
  2. A healthy work-life balance is also great for reducing the chances of stress.  Help your employees learn how they work best and support them to be able to fit their own style.
  3. Acknowledge that stress is real.  It causes real physical symptoms just as any virus would, and as such needs to be tended to early to prevent long term effects.

By embracing an holistic approach to workplace wellness (both physical and mental), and providing the tools necessary to find the correct help early on, it creates a happy, healthy atmosphere, reduces absenteeism, reduces presenteeism, increases productivity, and saves money.

*The DocHQ basic package begins at £8.80 per employee per month.

Sources:  1, 2,
             CIPD Absence Management Survey 2016
             People Count: Third Sector – Absence Management Report 2017

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