Benchmarking stability in sickness absence

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EEF’s new Sickness Absence Benchmark shows that the absence rate has remained unchanged in the last year, at 2.3%, continuing the theme of stability in the absence statistics since 2010. 

Our report also details the average number of days lost to sickness absence per employee, which declined slightly in 2016 to 5.2 days.  Although both manual and non-manual employees have seen a drop in days lost to absence, manual workers continue to exhibit higher rates of sick leave, with an average of 6.1 days lost compared to nearly half that number of non-manual employees (3.1 days).

The benchmark report is based on data from our annual Sickness Absence survey, which was conducted at the start of 2017, and covers 222 organisations employing in excess of 46,000 staff.

New to this year’s report we have provided an overall manufacturing breakdown in addition to the sub sector data.  In 2016, across manufacturing the average number of days lost to absence was 5.3, nearly half a day more than the days lost in non-manufacturing companies (average of 4.9 days per employee).

There is some variance in absence across the manufacturing sub sectors.  Electrical & Precision Products & Equipment recorded the lowest absence, at 3.8 days lost per worker, in contrast Motor Vehicles, Other Transport & Equipment for the second year in a row posted the highest figures, at an average of 7.2 days absent in 2016.

The smallest companies continue to lead the way with the least absence.  Employers of up to 50 had an absence rate of 1.8% in the last year (down from 1.9% the previous year).  Taking up second position are those with a workforce ranging from 51 to 100, who experienced absence rates of 2.2%.


Terry Woolmer, Head of Health and Safety Policy, says:

"Employers recognise the critical importance of keeping sickness absence levels to a minimum. Staff morale, productivity and business costs can all be impacted if the amount of time lost to sickness absence isn't effectively managed.

The positive news is that our annual benchmarking analysis shows that manufacturers are doing just that, with the absence rate and average days lost of absence remaining stable in recent years. Companies should, however, keep their own performance under review and our research allows manufacturers to see how they stand against the industry average."


Sharon Broughton, Head of HR Consultancy:

“Sickness absence represents an annual loss of hundreds of thousands of pounds in lost revenue for UK businesses every year.  So what are businesses doing to keep this cost to a minimum and tackle sickness absence effectively?”


Think capability, not discipline

Many organisations cover sickness absence in their disciplinary policy. However, EEF recommends developing a ‘capability policy’ to better handle this issue. This policy should cover all areas of possible absence and reflect current employment legislation. We also recommend a separate policy for long-term absence. 

The policy should spell out exactly how managers should handle an ongoing sickness absence issue, such as what would ‘trigger’ the first written caution to an employee (e.g. 10 workings days or three or more occasions of absence during a rolling period of 12 months), what would trigger a final written caution and what would trigger a dismissal due to sickness absence.

Setting up an Absence Management Review Group that reviews sickness absences on a monthly basis is good practice and does not require the involvement of trade union representatives.


Train the manager

Even if HR crafts the best possible sickness absence policies, if managers aren’t properly trained or haven’t fully bought into the importance of these policies, they’re not worth the paper they’re written on.


Wellbeing & engagement at work

No sickness absence reduction programme would be complete without tackling some of the common causes of high levels of sickness absence. An Occupational Health and Wellbeing programme should be developed based on the findings of the initial problem solving data. For example, if a certain demographic of workers make up the largest portion of sickness absences, the wellbeing programme could target the root causes from flu vaccinations to stress management initiatives to an employee engagement strategy.

Finally as we have reported previously, there is clearly a growing issue with absence in the manual sector, specifically in manufacturing and a lot of this can be attributed to an ageing workforce, it is therefore, imperative when putting together a strategy for absence to include proactive and preventative activities. For example an annual health check for all employees carried out by your occupational health provider. Summary reports produced by them can give you a good indication of the types of issues employees have or could likely develop if certain activities continue. You can then look to consider proactive changes and initiatives to tackle these.


Download the report.


Head of Information & Research

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