Employers remain unaware of sickness absence levels

Employers remain unaware of the causes of sickness absence and their current absence levels, according to research by Aon Hewitt.

The Aon Hewitt Benefits and trends survey, which polled 185 employers in the UK representing a combined workforce of 650,000 employees globally, found one-third (32%) of respondents did not know how many days employees are absent through ill-health annually. Of those that could give a figure, 60% were not very confident of its accuracy.

The survey suggested that employers are missing opportunities to improve the health of their workers and to cut costs because of this lack of focus, particularly their lack of integration between absence and healthcare.

The survey also found that 13% of respondents viewed the components of their benefits programme completely separately, while another 36% said they are only loosely related.`

Many organisations are also failing to grasp the true cost of sickness absence, with 53% of respondents admitting that they do not measure the total cost of employee healthcare. A further 14% did not know whether their organisations measure the total cost of health.

The vast majority of the respondents said that healthcare costs their organisation less than £1,000 a year per employee. However, past research by Aon Hewitt has shown that the average cost of healthcare is usually between £2,000 and £3,000 per employee per year.

Two-thirds of respondents who do not measure the cost of absence said they would like to measure return on investment in employee health.

James Kenrick, healthcare consultant at Aon Hewitt, said: “There is a widespread lack of knowledge among the UK’s employers about levels of absence through sickness and the wider costs of healthcare.†

“This suggests a lack of focus on absence rates and on health generally.

“It is clear that there is a need for healthcare measurement and for tangible improvement on the current situation, but without an accurate picture of sickness absence and healthcare costs, employers will struggle to make and measure improvements.

“Employers that are not measuring rates of absence through sickness should start as soon as possible. In our experience, once management is aware of high sickness rates and the corresponding costs, it takes only a modest degree of intervention to bring rates down swiftly.†

“The sorts of actions employers can put in place quickly, and often at a relatively low cost, include return-to-work interviews and triggered referrals for rehabilitation.”

Read more articles on healthcare and wellbeing