Sickness absence levels up slightly

Sickness absence is back up to the levels observed in 2010 and 2011, at an average of 7.6 days per employee per year, following a small decrease in 2012, according to research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).

The annual CIPD/Simplyhealth Absence management survey, which was completed by 618 employers, found that absence levels are highest in the public sector (8.7 days per employee per year) and lowest in the manufacturing and production sector (six days per employee per year). 

The research also found that two-thirds of working time lost to absence is accounted for by short-term absences of up to seven days. A fifth can be attributed to long-term absences of four weeks or more.

Less than half of absence in the public sector is short term, compared with more than three-quarters in the private sector. Smaller organisations attribute a higher proportion of absences to short-term leave compared with larger organisations.

The research also found:

  • 85% of respondents had adjusted working patterns in the past year, compared to just 65% in the 2012 survey.
  • 70% of respondents reported that changes to working patterns have had a positive impact on employee motivation and engagement.
  • 46% of respondents use flexible-working options to support employees with mental health problems.
  • 62% of respondents use flexible-working options as a tool to manage short-term absence, up from 53% in 2012.
  • 26% of respondents said that ‘pulling a sickie’ is still a common cause of short-term absence, which is an increase on the 17% that said the same in 2012.

Dr. Jill Miller (pictured), research adviser at the CIPD and co-author of the report, said: “It’s fantastic to see employers recognising the benefits of increased flexible-working opportunities.

“More than 50% of employees report that flexible working helps them achieve a better work-life balance generally, also citing that it makes them healthier, more productive and reduces the amount of time that they take off sick.

“Changing demographics, including more people with caring responsibilities and the abolition of the default retirement age, means more people are looking to work untraditional hours. Offering more flexible-working opportunities also helps to respond to the needs of the UK’s ageing workforce, in which older employees will increasingly need and want to work in different ways and with different hours as they move towards retirement.

“It’s really important for businesses to recognise new ways of working to support a diverse workforce and to retain talent. Hopefully, employees will now be able to better balance their work and home demands.”

Helen Dickinson, spokesperson for Simplyhealth UK, added: “Getting flexible working right can lead to higher motivation levels, better productivity and increased flexibility. Balancing both the needs of the employer and the employee often results in happier and healthier employees and lower absence levels.

“The role of the line manager is essential. Flexible working works well when line managers and employers are aware of the different lifestyle demands employees may have.

“By helping employees to manage those demands better and perhaps adapting how, when or where the employee works can help to achieve greater commitment and motivation. As well as the employer’s role, employees must recognise that flexibility is two-way and being adaptable to help the business succeed too.

“It is about building an environment where the employee can have open and honest conversations about the challenges they are facing.”