Absence rates increasing again

absence at work

Absence rates have returned to levels last seen in 2010 and 2011 according to the annual CIPD/Simplyhealth Absence Management Survey.  Last year saw a small decrease but this latest survey puts the average absence per employee of 7.6 days a year. The highest levels of absence occur in the public sector with an average of 8.7 sick days per year being taken per employee. The lowest rates are in the production and manufacturing sector with 6 days per year per employee.

There are noticeable differences in the figures within the public and private sectors. Not only does the private sector experience the lowest rates but absences tend to be short term (less than 7 days). Organisations in the private sector reported that 75% of their absences were short term compared to fewer than 50% in the public sector. This means that over half of all absences in the public sector are long term, four weeks or more.

The survey also highlights the fact that the larger the organisation, the greater the absence levels. Most absences in smaller organisations tend to be short term compared to large organisations which are longer term.

Clearly these latest figures are a cause for concern especially given the fact that according to statistics recently released by the CIPD, long term absences have increased by 20% in the last year. Savvy employers are now seeking ways in which they can adjust their working patterns to try and reduce their absence levels, particularly the longer term ones. But just how are they doing this?

Figures revealed in the research suggest that 85% of employers this year are making adjustments to working patterns and environments. This is compared to only 65% in the study which was conducted last year. Of the organisations who responded to the survey over 70% of them reported that the introduction of flexible working patterns in the last year has decreased the rates of absence.

Changes to working patterns appear to have had significant benefits for the employers who have decided to implement them. Most organisations are looking to improve employee morale and by giving people more input into their preferred working patterns many companies have realised greater levels of employee motivation and engagement. Over 70% of organisations reported positive results from flexible working patters and an additional 46% also stated that they were supporting employees with mental health issues by offering flexible working opportunities. You can find further insights in our guide to staff engagement for HR professionals.

Employers are also considering what adjustments can be made to accommodate people who are returning to work from a long period of absence. This could be as simple as changing their hours slightly to give them a better work/life balance and help them honour their personal commitments.

CIPD Research Adviser and co-author of the report, Dr. Jill Miller, commented “It’s fantastic to see employers recognising the benefits of increased flexible working opportunities. And it’s not just about benefits for employers in terms of being able to attract and retain talented people – over 50% of employees report that flexible working helps them achieve a better work–life balance generally, also citing that it makes them healthier, more productive and reduces the amount of time that they take off sick.”

The working environment has changed dramatically over the last decade or so and, therefore, working patterns need to adapt to and support the changing needs of a diverse workforce. In order to retain talent and reduce the levels of absence which clearly affect productivity, employers need to be prepared to be adaptable and consider alternative ways of working.

Thales Learning & Development provides exceptional leadership and management training in order to support leaders and managers to develop an engaged and motivated workforce which in turn reduces absenteeism and increases productivity. For more information please call our expert Learning and Development team on 0800 077 3618.