If the latest research is to be believed, companies are still struggling with two of the most fundamental people management issues – keeping employee absence under control and employee performance management.

The latest data from the ONS shows that employee productivity has still not bounced back to pre-pandemic levels of 2019. However, whilst this is perhaps understandable given the dual issues of COVID and Brexit, the productivity problem is certainly not a new one; with further research stating that Britons produce much less value per hour than workers in many other leading economies.

What's going wrong with performance management? Find out in the latest Cezanne HR Blog


Historically, the finger of blame has been pointed at a number of issues – lack of training for line managers, poor quality workplace conversations and failure to give managers the tools they need to manage their teams – to name just a few. But now with the added pressures of an ongoing pandemic and the UK going it alone, what exactly do businesses need to do to bring their absence and performance management processes up to scratch and ensure they are getting maximum performance from their people?

Getting the basics right with your performance management

In many businesses, absence and performance management is still very much an ad hoc affair. Practices often vary wildly across departments and between managers. Some employees have regular productive reviews while others are lucky if they even get an annual appraisal. Clearly, striking the right balance with such things as absence management should be a priority.

Persistent short term absence is pulled up sharply in one team – while in others it is allowed to carry on without comment – you can see how this can be a problem, right? However, putting just simple, basic absence and performance management processes in place can make a huge difference.

Managers and employees know what’s supposed to happen and when and what’s acceptable and what’s not – while the business gets a helicopter view of the talent it has in house and can plan succession and development in line with corporate objectives.

Provide training

Managers are typically expected to know how to ‘do’ performance management. But it’s not a skill that comes naturally to everyone. Often managers push poor performance or inappropriate behaviour under the carpet because they don’t know how to tackle it and are worried about getting into a confrontation with employees.

A simple or well thought-out training programme can ensure managers understand the company’s absence and performance management processes, are confident about implementing them and have the skills to get the best out of their people.

Concentrate on conversations

Good conversations between managers and employees are critical to building relationships and raising performance standards. Yet it’s not uncommon for employees to come away from appraisals or reviews feeling aggrieved by feedback or confused by what they are supposed to be doing differently.

Managers need help to improve their feedback and communication skills so that performance conversations are productive and impactful and everyone is clear about what’s needed and what kind of behaviour is expected.

Make it meaningful

If people are not clear about their objectives and how their role fits into the bigger picture, they will find it difficult to prioritise or get motivated about the job in hand.

Good performance management processes ensure employees understand what’s important, what they are doing well, what they need to improve on and how success will be measured and rewarded. If people can see that discussions and decisions made in performance reviews are carried through, they are much more likely to focus their efforts enthusiastically on the right things. Equally, if employees see that absence is being monitored in a fair and consistent way and that unacceptable behaviour is being dealt with, they are much less likely to try and flout the system.

Give managers tools to manage their teams and enhance their performance management abilities

Often, proper management of absence and performance doesn’t happen because managers perceive it as ‘difficult’ or time consuming. Sophisticated absence and performance management software is, however, now available to help streamline the process and make managers’ jobs much easier.

The latest performance management systems give managers the tools to set objectives, schedule appraisals, plan development and monitor progress. Best of all, they provide an overview of the skills and talents available within the team, making it much easier for managers to spot development gaps and plan for succession.

Absence management programmes, meanwhile, can pinpoint trends that may be emerging and provide a trigger for managers when they need to take action. Good quality conversations still need to happen of course, but automated processes make it much easier to keep both absence and performance management on track.

Erika Lucas author image

Erika Lucas

Writer and Communications Consultant

Erika Lucas is a writer and communications consultant with a special interest in HR, leadership, management and personal development. Her career has spanned journalism and PR, with previous roles in regional press, BBC Radio, PR consultancy, charities and business schools.