UK employees were off for 137.3 million days in 2016 due to sickness absence alone (ONS) it’s no surprise this is a concern for employers. Together with all the other causes of workplace absenteeism it all adds up to lost time, money and productivity for businesses. Yet less than two-fifths of organisations actually monitor the cost of employee absence (CIPD Absence Management Annual Survey Report 2015).
Small-to-medium businesses feel the effect of absenteeism disproportionately as they have lower staff numbers to absorb the absent employee’s work. While everyone is ill sometimes or has another legitimate reason for absence, it’s worth employers taking time to consider the different causes of absenteeism, keeping it to a minimum and appropriate steps to deal with it when it does happen.
Different causes of employee absence
On average people were absent from work for 4.3 days in the UK in 2016 (ONS, 2017). People may be absent from work for a whole range of reasons including:
- Sickness – by far the largest category of absence is sickness or injury. In 2016 minor illnesses were the most common cause at 34 million lost days (24.8% of the total), followed by musculoskeletal problems at 30.8 million days (22.4%). Mental health issues (including depression, stress, anxiety) resulted in 15.8 million days lost (11.5%) (ONS, 2017) While the last two decades have seen declining rates of sickness (from 178 million in 1993) the current figure still remains a concern.
- Family or other caring responsibilities – employees may need to be absent from time to time, over and above annual leave, for childcare reasons or to look after other dependent relatives.
- Poor time management – persistent late starters or early leavers can become a problem too.
Sickness rates have been found to vary by size of organisation: employees in organisations with 500 and over employees had a 2.5% sickness rate (interpreted as the proportion of working hours lost due to sickness or injury) versus 1.6% for organisations with fewer than 25 employees (ONS, 2017).
What should employer’s do about absenteeism?
- Improve absence monitoring – have in place robust absence monitoring systems and ensure that line managers and supervisors are aware of the procedures for recording and responding to sick calls and other requests for absence. A recent survey found that the percentage of organisations monitoring the cost of absence was low in some sectors e.g. 28% in ‘manufacturing and production’ compared to 55% in ‘public service’ organisations.
- Have support processes in place – when staff are on sick leave frequently or for a long period ensure the firm has a sympathetic and fair approach for staying in touch with the staff member and providing any appropriate support for their partial or eventual full-time return. Long-term sickness (more than 4 weeks) needs to be managed especially carefully and lawfully. In such cases employers need to be aware of their duty to consider other factors e.g. whether the employee could return to work in another contract, e.g. part-time. If not managed properly employers can find themselves taken to an employment tribunal for unfair dismissal.
- Pay attention to staff employee wellbeing – motivated and engaged staff are less likely to be absent for sickness reasons or to be poor timekeepers; ensure that you’re paying attention to employee engagement.
With Chronologic’s Workforce Management System you can easily identify late starters, early finishers, and frequent absentees and therefore improve absence monitoring. Biometric clocking-in options prevent attempts at ‘buddy-clocking’ for absent colleagues. The time and attendance system can be integrated with payroll, making easy work of applying sick pay rates quickly and promptly.