The number of working days lost to sickness per year has now dropped from 131 million days in 2011 down from 178 million days in 2003 – a decrease of over 25%. In 1993, around 7.2 days were lost per worker; in 2011, the number of days lost was 4.5.
The report does not go into the reasons for this fall but I would suggest that it may well be to do with the general economic climate and the fear that a poor attendance record may result in dismissal either on a capability basis or due to selection for redundancy (where attendance may well be one of the selection criteria). In addition, I consider that more employers are actively managing sickness absence issues and taking appropriate steps to in their workplace and thus improve their efficiency in a challenging financial climate.
The report also looks into the reasons for sickness absence. According to the report, the most common reasons given for sickness were minor illnesses like colds and flu. However, the greatest percentage of days were lost to musculoskeletal problems (making up just over a quarter of days lost), with stress, depression and anxiety taking second place.
The report also provided some interesting insights into the demographics of sickness absence – older workers and women have higher rates of sickness absence, and workers in the public sector have higher rates than private sector and self employed workers.
Meanwhile, workers in London are considerably less likely to lose work time to sickness than workers anywhere else in the UK, with workers in Wales and the North East of England having above average rates of absence.
These statistics show a continuing positive trend towards lower overall levels of absenteeism but, as always, there is room for improvement. One area of particular concern are the figures relating to absence due to stress which is a growing problem.
There are a number of steps that can be taken to help manage the issue and hopefully reduce absences as a result. As I mentioned previously ACAS have published a guide on mental health at work that provides some very useful tips to help employers promote positive mental health at work.
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
- Ensure that absence figures are circulated to the relevant people within the organisation
- Be clear who is responsible for absence management – HR or Employee’s manager or someone else?
- Be proactive in dealing with any issues and do not delay
- Return to work interviews
- Formal procedure and formal warnings where appropriate
- Be aware of any underlying disability issues