Most nurse managers are apathetic about tackling staff absence, despite nurses consistently having one of the highest rates of absenteeism among NHS staff, a study suggests.
Nurse line managers are less likely to tackle staff absence than other NHS managers and are more negative overall about it whether can be reduced, according to the findings by human resources experts at the Manchester Business School.
They surveyed 294 managers from two trusts and found the majority of nurses did not seek to tackle staff sickness absence in their teams – with 60% describing themselves as “inactive” when it came to managing absence, compared to 53% for all managers.
Additionally, more than half of nurse managers, 56%, answered “no” when asked whether absence could be lowered, compared with 42% of managers overall.
Writing in the journal Health Services Research Management, published by the Royal Society of Medicine, the researchers said: “There are nursing staff shortages, yet getting staff into work does not appear to be addressed rigorously.”
They suggested nurse managers may be more negative about tackling the issue because there was a “culture” of high absenteeism in nursing, which outweighed the culture of individual trusts.
“The influence of professional culture within and outside the organisation should not be underestimated,” they said.
One of the authors, Vivienne Walker, told Nursing Times that many nurse managers only had experience within the NHS and, therefore, had always being used to relatively high levels of absence.
“They may therefore not really be seeing absence as a problem because it is what they are accustomed to,” she said.
Greta Thornbory, professional development director at the Association of Occupational Health Nurse Practitioners, said high absence levels had “always been in nursing” and that the stressful working environment partially explained it.
She also said nurses were promoted into line manager roles “because of their technical skills and knowledge, not because of their people skills and knowledge”, and that there was often a lack of human resources training provided for them.
Ms Thornbory said research done by organisations such as the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development had shown that absence could be reduced, but the majority of nurse managers had not been told about it.
A Nursing Times survey carried out earlier this year found two thirds of nurses reported suffering side effects from work-related stress over the previous 12 months, with the majority reporting they were having to work longer hours.