Dealing with workplace absence

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The latest EEF sickness absence survey shows little change in overall figures, but companies are still encouraged to do more to adopt a holistic approach towards dealing with this issue.


What are the numbers telling us?

Earlier this year we surveyed 288 members, with a combined workforce of nearly 49,000 employees on their absence trends over the past year.

We report the findings in two ways – the average number of days absent per employee (this excludes holidays and other forms of leave unrelated to sickness, such as maternity or parental leave) and the absence rate – the proportion of working days lost to absence.

In 2015, companies reported a modest increase in absence. Average days lost per employee in 2015 were 5.3, with manual employees having an average 6.5 days of absence, higher than the 3.6 days for their non-manual co-workers.

The prevalence of absence seems to increase with company size. The smallest companies, with up to 50 employees, reported an average of 4.2 days lost to absence per employee, compared with 6.1 days in large companies with more than 500 employees.

The overall absence rate for 2015 is 2.3%, this equates to an average of 5.3 days lost per employee.  Although up slightly from 2014, the absence rate has remained fairly consistent since 2010 hovering at just over 2%.


Lee Hopley EEF Chief Economist Lee Hopley says:

“At the core of manufacturing’s success is the 2.7 million people that make things in the UK. The sector’s future growth depends on those people being fit, working and productive.

Companies have a role in ensuring that’s the case; through minimising the risk of sickness absence by fostering workplace cultures and environments which proactively manage individuals’ health conditions and by getting people back into work following periods of absence as early as is possible.

Individuals and companies both benefit from doing so effectively through better health outcomes and lower business costs.

While we’ve seen a small increase in average absence rates over the past year, this isn’t necessarily a cause for concern. Our research has shown that the majority of companies have a target for absence and most are managing to meet it. However, companies can benefit from comparing their performance and in cases where there are significant deviations from the industry average may want to monitor the causes and take some actions that will deliver bottom line benefits.  Our latest benchmarking data can help business determine how their absence record compares with similar businesses in their sector or size group.” 

Why manage sickness absence

JacquiTutin EEF’s Senior HR Consultant Jacqui Tutin says:

“Sickness absence is different to other absences because it is usually unplanned which causes more disruption, however businesses can influence the levels of sickness absence.  Effective sickness absence management requires a holistic approach and information is key to your approach.  Being proactive with your absence management can help prevent people going off sick, so your absence management procedure needs to be underpinned by a culture of employee health and well-being."


Need more help with absence management?
Our team of HR consultants are on-hand to offer advice guidance and practical support. For an informal discussion on how we can help you achieve the outcome you need, get in touch with our team of experts at 0808 168 5874.


EEF recommends these three actions to help reduce sickness absence:

1. Return to work interviews

Return to work interviews serve a number of purposes: they provide the manager with information about the reason the person was off sick and whether they require any assistance with their return to work.  It is an opportunity to review the absence record of the employee (number of days/occurrences) to identify a potential issue which may be; an underlying condition, stress due to issues at home/work, or maybe it was non-genuine.  Return to work interviews alert the employee to the fact that their absence has been noted, it is being monitored and how their absence affects their team/department.

2. Trigger points

Pre-determined ‘trigger points’ at which an employee’s absence record will be reviewed, provides clarity for managers as to when to review an employee’s sickness record.  This helps to ensure sickness absence is managed consistently across your organisation and that some employees do not slip through unnoticed.  Note: review does not necessarily mean a set action is taken.  i.e. 3 days sick equals a first warning.

3. Leave for family circumstances

Many businesses believe that employees take days sick for other family related reasons.  By publicising the appropriate policies for these events and encouraging employees to take the relevant leave, can enable you to plan for these absences rather than employees going sick with no notice.  This will also mean that your sickness absence rate is more accurate.  However in order for this to be successful you will need to consider the sick pay available compared with, for example, pay for emergency leave for dependents, as this will affect employees’ choices.

When managing sickness absence don’t forget to check, is it a disability?

Either way you can still manage the absence, but this may affect the process you follow.

Does the employee have ‘a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long term adverse effect on ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities’? Possible indicators that an employee might have a disability are numerous, but the key ones are: long term absence, self-certification/fit note, changes in behaviour or performance.

Although there is no duty where an employer did not know and could not be reasonably expected to know an employee is disabled, an employer must do all it can be reasonably expected to do to find out. Therefore, just because the employee has not told you they are disabled is not an excuse.


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