The excellent CIPD annual survey report on absence management has been published today. I've set out below some of the key points from the survey plus also some practical tips on how to deal with absence issues in the workplace.

The report considers key workplace absence issues and is based on survey replies from almost 700 organisations throughout the UK. The survey reveals some interesting trends and points that can illustrate ways to improve absence management procedure. It also provides some useful benchmarking data for HR staff. 

The survey reports that overall absence has fallen from 7.7 days per employee last year to 6.8 days this year.

Public sector sick days have fallen to its lowest level since the survey began standing at 7.9 days per employee per year (down from 9.1 days last year), although this is still significantly more than the private sector figure of 5.7 days per year.

This overall decrease in absence levels may appear to be a positive development but the survey also shows that there has been an increase in “presenteeism”, where employees turn up to work ill.

One point worth highlighting from the report is the increased impact of absence related to stress.

Two fifths of employers participating in the survey have reported that stress absence has increased in the last year, perhaps due to the challenging economic conditions. The most common cause of stress identified by the survey is workload, suggesting employees are taking on greater amounts of work due to a more streamlined workforce. It is therefore important that employers have in place effective procedures to deal with workplace stress including monitoring workload levels.

Short-term absence (those less than seven days) accounts for the majority (two-thirds) of workplace absence. Unfortunately for employers, where this is accounted for by minor illnesses, as is most often the case, there may be little that can be done to prevent this type of absence. The survey does though show that family and home responsibilities can account for a significant amount of short-term absence (the survey reveals this to be a bigger issue among private sector employers) and it may be beneficial for employers to consider whether additional flexible working availability may help reduce short-term absence if this is a problem.

While costs are hard to estimate and can depend on the size of the employer, the median cost of workplace absence of those surveyed who had financial records was £600 per employee per year. In a large organisation this can clearly amount to a significant outlay. So if nothing else having good absence procedures in place can be a boost to the bottom line.

The report as a whole contains some very useful benchmarking information for employers looking to improve their absence management procedures.

For further details see:-

CIPD Sickness Absence Survey

If absenteeism is a problem for your organisation then it is important to consider issues such as:-

  • Management Reporting – e.g. cost of absence, lost time rate, Bradford factor
  • Ensuring that absence figures are circulated to the relevant people within the organisation
  • Being clear who is responsible for absence management – HR or Employee’s manager or someone else?
  • Being proactive in dealing with any issues and do not delay
  • Return to work interviews
  • Triggers
  • Formal procedure and formal warnings where appropriate
  • Being aware of any underlying disability issues