Whether short or long-term, sickness absence can hit companies hard. But how do you go about managing it?
According to Vitality’s annual Britain’s Healthiest Workplace study, sickness absence and presenteeism costs businesses 38 days per employee in lost productivity1.
Short or long-term, staff absence hits companies hard. But how do you go about managing it?
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) Health and Wellbeing report for 2020 showed that stress and mental ill-health are particular causes for concern.
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 CIPD's 2020 report, the main causes of sickness absence are:Mental ill-health - Conditions like clinical depression and anxiety now top the three most common causes of long-term absence (59%), while three-fifths (60%) of organisations say common mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression have increased in the past 12 months.
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.Fit Notes - If your employee is off work sick for more than 7 days in a row (including non-working days), they must give you a Fit Note. When doctors fill in a Fit Note, they can indicate whether the employee is not fit for work, or may be fit for work. If your employee ‘may be fit for work’, it’s a good idea to arrange to meet with them to talk about how you can help them come back to work. The Fit Note will help you with this conversation as the doctor will have selected one of the following four options to help guide you when it comes to what steps you’ll need to take to help get your employee back to work: phased return to work, amended duties, altered hours, workplace adaptations. They may also have made additional comments. Fit Notes are a useful starting point, but for longer absences you may want to think about introducing some of the following absence management measures which can encourage higher attendance rates and help cut the cost of staff absence.
For more information on ways to measure absence, take a look at this CIPD resource.
Absorbing the cost of sickness absence can be a problem for some organisations, 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:
According to the CIPD, the vast majority of businesses (89%) have seen presenteeism, where an employee comes to work even though they’re unwell, and 27% of organisations said this had increased. Coming into work when sick can also mean employees take longer to recover and are at greater risk of making mistakes.
Almost three-quarters (73%) of businesses also said they’d seen ‘leaveism’ – where employees use allocated time off, such as annual leave, to work or if they are unwell, or working outside contracted hours. Almost two-thirds (60%) said they were aware of employees working outside their hours to get work done, while a third (34%) said employees used allocated time off to work.
To combat presenteeism, companies can introduce workplace wellness strategies as they can help reduce absenteeism, presenteeism and leaveism.
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 working4
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 they’re unable to travel 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.