Research: one in seven employees will have a serious absence this year

Research commissioned by Ellipse in October 2016 has found that one in seven employees have been absent from work for four weeks or more in the last year. This challenges previously published government statistics (one in 18) and suggests that the risk of long-term absence is now higher than previously thought.

In addition, research conducted by another group risk insurer showed that one in five are typically absent for four weeks or more each year.

These alarming results collectively show that this is a very real risk that employers of all sizes need to prepare for, especially given the high cost of sickness absence in sick pay, recruiting and training extra staff and loss of expertise/experience. That’s why it is important employers manage absence well and have a support network in place, including rehabilitation services and appropriate specialist support, if an employee falls ill or suffers an injury.

Yet our research also found many SMEs do not have an appropriate support network in place should a serious absence occur.

  • Almost half of employees (48%) think they would lack employer support if they were off sick from work
  • A quarter (25%) believe they would only receive the odd phone call
  • A further 23% think they wouldn’t receive any support at all

Employees may feel this way as 20% of employers admit they find providing the right personal support to an employee their biggest challenge.

Putting support in place
Most employers will not have the resources to provide this level of personal support themselves. This is especially the case for small- and medium-sized companies where HR staff cover a full spectrum of duties. We’d suggest that all employers make arrangements so that they can call on dedicated support when it’s needed.

This is where the government’s Fit for Work service, launched in 2010, can help. The service provides a case manager to design a return to work plan for absent employees. The case manager will make recommendations for additional medical treatments, such as rehabilitation, and adaptations to the employees working environment that may help them return more successfully.

Albeit a fairly basic service, where employers will have to pay for treatments but can access a tax break up to £500, we’d encourage them to find out more about this service as a first step.

Another option to consider, stopping short of appointing specialist occupational health and medical support providers, group income protection policies now provide early intervention and case management support. These products can provide a more complete solution, which included with the insurance, can be more cost effective as insurers will often pay for an employee’s treatment.

Talking about the support
Regardless of the option chosen, once an employer has put some absence support in place, telling employees about it clearly and regularly is vital. Its important employees know about the services they have access to, which in turn, can lead to employees valuing their employer more.

Also, while our research shows that many employees don’t think their employer will provide much support, some of this could of course just be perception. Implementing an income protection plan with its financial as well as practical support is of course the perfect good news message, but just talking about the issue openly can help to shift perceptions.

In a nutshell
The likelihood that an employee will be absent for a prolonged period is higher than most employers realise. Therefore, they should ensure they are prepared to deal with an absence should it occur. A key part of that is making sure they provide the right practical, emotional, medical and personal support, yet many employees do not have the confidence that their employer would provide this.