Whether short or long-term, staff absence hits companies hard. But why should you be bothered about it and how do you go about managing it?
According to the Centre of Economic and Business Research (CEBR) and First Care, sickness absence accounts for a whopping £18 billion a year1 in lost productivity.
Most companies are all too aware of the direct cost of sickness absence - statutory sick pay, occupational sick pay, paying overtime and for temporary cover. But there are also the knock-on (indirect) effects:
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s (CIPD) Annual Absence Management Survey Report 2016 showed that stress and mental ill-health are particular causes for concern.
First off, it’s probably best to be clear what we’re talking about here. As most employers will know, absences come in all shapes and sizes and can last anything from days to years. But what’s the biggest cause of absence?
While minor illnesses are still the most common cause of short-term illness, the number of people absent due to stress and mental health issues remains a major issue for employers in both the short and long term.
According to the 2016 CIPD report, the main causes of sickness absence are:
Whether you’re trying to tackle short or long-term absence, the best starting point is to start monitoring your absences, if you don’t already - unless you know what you’re dealing with, it’s pretty impossible to manage.
The good news is that this doesn’t have to be difficult; if you’re a smaller company, it could be something as simple as setting up an Excel spreadsheet to monitor staff absence.
SMEs can monitor absence using the Health and Safety Executive’s free sickness management tool SART prototype.
stress management, dating and marriage, depression, family relationships, financial worries, work relationships.
For more information on ways to measure absence, take a look at this CIPD resource.
Almost a third of companies can only absorb the cost of sickness absence for a maximum of a week5. So it’s important to think about how you’re going to manage it.
But there’s a fine line between effectively monitoring and managing absence and scaring or enticing employees into the office when they’re really not well enough to be there.
When creating your absence management strategy, it’s important to be aware of these less desirable outcomes:
Presenteeism is where employees come into work even when they’re not well enough to. It can happen for a number of reasons including feeling worried about job security, having a heavy workload or, ironically, because of attendance incentives.
Whatever the reason, presenteeism is rarely a good thing. The unwell employee is likely to make mistakes, be much less productive and spread their germs around the office causing more sickness. Colleagues who’ve booked holidays are also going to be less than happy having to sit next to their ill colleague when they’re due to jet off to Spain tomorrow.
To combat presenteeism, lots of companies are introducing workplace wellness strategies as they help reduce both absenteeism and presenteeism.
This follows on from presenteeism: if employees feel under pressure to come into work, stress and mental health problems can be exacerbated, which can result in long-term absences.
Additionally, if you make return to work interviews too interrogating, some employees will try to avoid the stress they cause by coming into work when they should be at home in bed. To combat this, make sure that you welcome the employee back to work and, as well as finding out why they were absent, check that they feel they’re well enough to be back in the office.
Here are some things you can do to tackle the root causes of workplace stress.
Since 2014, all employees with 26 weeks’ service have the right to request flexible working6
Flexible working brings businesses a lot of benefits: employees have a better work/life balance so feel more loyal to the company; they’re able to work even if bad weather prevents them from travelling to the office; and there’s less guilt, last minute holiday and lost productivity if their childcare lets them down.
There’s also the benefit that if your employee is a bit under the weather, they’ll be more inclined to log on at home than they will to trek into the office.
The CIPD offers a summary of how to manage absence. It includes four tools:
1 Centre of Economic and Business Research and FirstCare - Change at Work: How Absence, Attitudes and Demographics are impacting UK employers – Mar 2017
2 CIPD – Absence management report 2016
4 BT Mobile Multiplier report – Oct 2016
5 Sickness Absence research conducted by Holden Pearmain, commissioned by Unum, 2012