The arrival last year of the Omicron strain of coronavirus has seen record numbers of UK cases, with staff across the country phoning in sick or retreating into self-isolation.

As usual, the public sector has been the first to feel the strain. Transport, the NHS and schools are all affected. At the end of December, 24,632 staff at hospital trusts were ill or self-isolating – that’s nearly double the figure from the start of the month! Meanwhile, schools have got the bug so badly that the Education Secretary has been urging retired teachers back into classrooms.

The Cabinet Office has asked public sector leaders to make “robust contingency plans” for “worst case scenarios” of 10, 20 and 25% absence. Your business may be smaller than the average NHS trust, but common sense would suggest that you need to undertake a similar exercise.

In fact, you’ve probably done so already. Such high levels of absence would have been unthinkable before 2020, but these are extraordinary times.

HR departments across the country have become familiar with the challenges of COVID-19. All of us are balancing the wish to treat our employees fairly against reminders from senior management that they have businesses to run.

Putting a plan into action

While COVID is becoming routine, the dynamics of infection remain unpredictable. Perhaps your team is one of the minority that has remained fit and well, with few or no absences. If so, congratulations…but you still need to spend time scenario-modelling for mass absence. Remember, a streak of good fortune really isn’t the same thing as invulnerability!

There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all action plan, of course, but the following seems to have worked for an awful lot of LeavePlanner clients:

Prioritise essential business functions

What could be put on hold?

Ready your messaging

Clients and suppliers will need to be briefed if absences are likely to impact your dealings with them.

Write it up

Some of your most mission-critical business procedures are stored in the heads of individual employees. Make sure they write down those procedures, even if you have to pay them extra to do it.


Reward those teamsters who do all the extra work. (Hint: you don’t have to do so by increasing their ‘hourlies’, although it’s not a bad idea.)

Last but not least, consider investing in absence management software. LeavePlanner is designed from the ground up to record and monitor employee absences, and we’ve built a formidable track record of helping customers deal with staffing challenges. Give us a ring on 01252 636 070 to learn more.

For any queries, call Steve on 01252 636 070 or email