5 Things about Absence Management You Need to Know

​Employee absence is currently a major issue for UK businesses with employers facing a yearly bill of around £9 billion for sick pay and associated costs with individuals missing out on £4 billion a year in lost earnings.

It is therefore important for companies to focus on introducing and improving current absence management strategies. Listed here are 5 important things that might surprise you about absence in UK organisations:

1. The negative effect of absence is not only financial

The consequences of absence are negative, not only due to the absence itself in terms of statutory sick pay, occupational sick pay or paying overtime for temporary cover, but also to the knock-on effects that absence can have. It has been found that when employees need to cover for their absent colleagues, the increase in their workload can be detrimental to their morale. This increase in workload can also lead to higher risk of mistakes and lower motivation due to the delays and lack of consistency that often comes as a result of frequently absent colleagues.

2. Stress is the most common cause of long term sickness absence

Stress related illness is an increasing issue within UK business according to two-fifths of organisations in a Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development survey. In 2015/16, stress accounted for 37% of all work related ill health cases and 45% of all working days lost due to ill health. Often mental illnesses, particularly stress-related illness, can often be overlooked due to their ‘invisible’ nature relative to physical illness. These shocking statistics reveal the reality of the high prevalence of this cause of absence and thus the importance of stress-related illness not being overlooked or underestimated as a serious issue within the workplace.

3. More than a third of all sick leave is taken on Monday

Professor Cary Cooper, an occupational health psychologist at the University of Lancaster, said: "People are doing more work under more demanding conditions so are under more stress and need more rest and recuperation. Some employees may feel the weekend is not enough so they take the extra day.” The fact that Monday is the most popular day for sick leave suggests that this sick leave is likely not due to a physical illness that happens to occur on a Monday, but rather stress. Stressed employees may feel the weekend is not long enough and therefore did not provide them with enough of a break to feel as if they can dive back in to their working lives on Monday morning. This indicates that stress may not only be a common cause of long term sickness absence, but also short-term sickness absence.

4. A flawed absence management strategy can make it worse

An absence strategy that emphasises the importance of employees attending work even when they do not feel fit to do so risks leading to presenteeism- where employees come into work even when not well enough. This leads to an increase in mistakes, lower productivity and a decrease in morale. It can also lead to increased stress if employees feel under pressure to come into work, which is counter intuitive with stress-related illness being one of the main causes of absence to begin with. It is therefore important to focus on the well-being of the employee to reduce absence rates.

5. Specialist training can help reduce absence rates

The knowledge that stress-related illness is such a prominent problem within UK business has provided industries with an understanding of what to target when introducing interventions to reduce staff absence. Resilience Training is an opportunity for employees to increase their capability to recover from difficult times, to deal with pressure, to adapt well to change, and to help them to identify strategies to reduce stress. This is not only useful in improving employees’ abilities to assess their own mental well-being but it also trains employees to be able to identify and effectively deal with stressed colleagues, which in turn could help the team become more interdependent, increasing well-being and productivity.

Altruist Enterprises are an experienced provider of training for managers and employees, giving your teams vital skills on how to effectively cope with stress and adversities at home and in the workplace.

Lara is a student intern at Altruist Enterprises and is currently studying Psychology at the University of Birmingham. She is exploring aspects of educational psychology and psychology in the workplace with particular interest in how mental wellbeing can enhance job performance and work ethic.

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