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CIPD Annual Absence Management Survey 2015

The 2015 CIPD annual survey report on absence management was published on Monday. I have set out below some of the key points from the survey plus some practical tips on how to deal with absence issues in the workplace.

The report considers key workplace absence issues and is based on survey replies from 578 organisations from a range of sectors throughout the United Kingdom employing a total of 1.5 million employees. The survey reveals some interesting information that can assist employers with improving their absence management procedures. It also provides useful benchmarking data.

Key findings are:

  • Overall absence levels have risen slightly from an average of 6.6 days of absence per employee in 2014 to 6.9 days this year
  • The level of absences vary between organisations with public sector organisations having the highest average absence rates
  • Private sector sick days are an average of 5.8 days absence per employee per year
  • Public sector sick days have risen to an average of 8.7 days per employee per year from last year's figure of 7.9 days
  • The level of absence tends to be higher in larger organisations, regardless of sector
  • The median cost of workplace absence was £554 per employee per year

One point worth highlighting from the report is the increased impact of absence related to stress which is ranked as a common cause of both short term (four weeks or less) and long term absences. However, minor illnesses, such as colds, migraines and stomach upsets are the most common cause of short term absences, with stress being a more common cause of long term absences.

Two-fifths of employers participating in the survey have reported that stress absence has increased in the last year once again, with public sector and larger organisations being more likely to report an increase in stress related absences.

As with last year, the most common cause of stress identified by the survey is workload. It is therefore important that employers have in place effective procedures to deal with workplace stress including monitoring workload levels. Despite many organisations surveyed taking steps to tackle stress related absences, over 40% of employers who included stress in their top five reasons for absence are not currently taking any action to identify and reduce stress in the workplace.

Short-term absence of up to four weeks is the most common cause of workplace absences. Of the organisations surveyed, 89% of these reported that minor illnesses such as colds, flu and stomach upsets were in the top five causes for short-term absences. Unfortunately for employers, there may be little that can be done to prevent this type of absence. The survey does though, show that family and home responsibilities are seen as one of the top causes of absence by a significant number of employers (the survey reveals this to be a bigger issue among private sector employers) and it may be beneficial for employers to consider whether additional flexible working availability may help reduce short-term absence if this is a problem. The survey also highlights that 30% of the organisations surveyed reported that "non-genuine absence" (i.e. "pulling a sickie") is one of their top causes of short-term absence.

This year's report places a big focus on employee well-being, finding that just under half of those surveyed reported that operational demands take precedence over well-being considerations, while a similar proportion insist they take employee well-being into consideration when taking business decisions and that well-being is firmly on the agenda. Well-being support can range from access to counselling, to offering employees free fresh fruit or subsidising their gym membership. Over one-third of companies said that their well-being spend had increased from last year, and it is thought that there will be further increases to well-being spend throughout the coming year.

The report as a whole contains some very useful benchmarking information for employers looking to improve their absence management procedures.  For further details, see the report here.

If absenteeism is a problem for your organisation then it is important to consider issues such as:

  • Management reporting - e.g. cost of absence, lost time rate, Bradford factor
  • Ensuring that absence figures are circulated to the relevant people within the organisation
  • Being clear who is responsible for absence management - HR or employee's manager or someone else?
  • Being proactive in dealing with any issues without delay
  • Return to work interviews
  • Use of trigger points so that matters are escalated after a certain number of absences
  • Use of occupational health advice where appropriate (see, for example Fit for work)
  • Formal procedure and formal warnings where appropriate
  • Being aware of any underlying disability issues