July 11.2018, 1.02pm

Flexible or foolish – what is absence management REALLY costing your organisation?

Absence may make the heart grow fonder but, when it comes to business, it can also chip away at your bottom line. Workplace stress is at a 16 year high in the UK. Increasing workloads and the fallout from austerity measures have placed an increased strain on workforces across many industries.

So it’s perhaps no surprise that this can result in short term and long term absences through stress, illness or mental health issues. That’s where absence management comes in. Over a quarter of UK businesses identified absence management as one of their top three people management priorities. Given the impact that absences can have on productivity, morale and output, absence management really needs to be a priority for every modern business.

What are common causes of absenteeism?

Absences are caused by a multitude of reasons. It can be a consequence of mental, physical or psychological problems. Some absences are entirely justified but many an employee has also “pulled a sickie.” Identifying the cause of absences can help you to appropriately deal with them.

According to the CIPD’s Absence Management 2016 report, the main causes of short term absences are minor illness, followed by stress. The major cause of long term absences are stress, acute medical conditions and mental health issues. However, organisations in the private sector are very likely to rank illegitimate absence and family/home responsibilities as their top cause of absence.

Another issue that can lead to long term sick leave is bullying in the workplace.

New research showed that women’s, “rate of sickness absence doubled and their use of antidepressant prescriptions increased after experiencing bullying.” Men who experienced bullying are unlikely to take sick leave but are twice as likely to leave their jobs.

Centre of Economic and Business Research report found that a major cause of the increased levels of absence in the UK is a 72 percent rise in mental health issues. The people most affected are 30 to 40-year-olds, due to increased financial pressures and the demands of balancing work and family commitments.

Disengaged workers are also more likely to take sick days. A Gallup report revealed that actively disengaged workers report 3.5 more days of work missed per person per year. So it pays to keep your workforce motivated and engaged.

Major sporting events like the World Cup can also “infect” your workforce. Employees can take unauthorised absences at these times if they can’t get the day off to see the match. Alcohol-related absences are another factor. Planning ahead and introducing clear and fair leave policies at these times can help to reduce the impact on your organisation.

What is the cost to your organisation?

It’s obvious that productivity will suffer as a result of employee absence and absenteeism. Apart from the individual productivity, the additional strain that this can place on colleagues or departments will have a knock on effect on team and organisational productivity. That ultimately affects an organisation’s bottom line. A recent report estimated that workplace absence is costing the UK economy £18 billion in lost productivity a year.

The CIPD found that the average cost of absence per employee is £522 in the UK per year. This rises to £835 per employee in the public sector, due to the tendency for higher absence levels and better sick pay agreements.

What can you do about it?

It is vital that organisations are prepared to deal with mental health issues in their workforce. This may include providing external experts, if needed. The latest figures show that two-fifths of organisations reported an increase in mental health problems (such as depression or anxiety) in the last year.

Building transparency and trust is a powerful step towards absence management. This means taking an individualised approach to your workforce to pre-empt mental health issues or work on contributing factors. Serious mental health issues affect one in four people in the UK every year so a large section of your workforce could be at risk.

Mental health issues sometimes come with a misplaced stigma so encouraging employees to be open about their issues will help. Provide training for HR professionals or line managers so that they are equipped to deal with these issues if an employee broaches the subject.

Introducing leave for personal/family issues and flexible working options can allow employees who need to take time off to do so without calling in sick. According to Accor services, each childcare crisis takes an average of 16 hours to resolve.

80 percent of that time will be during work hours so parental responsibilities inevitably take their toll. If employees experiencing a crisis are able to openly explain the situation without fear of repercussions, they are less likely to take a sick day to cover the crisis.

Looking at your leave policies can also help. Are you offering employees enough paid leave? Holidays are a chance for employees to recharge, rediscover their motivation and improve their mental health.

Modern rostering software can identify absence trends and expose issues or patterns of absenteeism. Demand-based rostering can also increase your flexibility and help workers to manage their responsibilities or priorities in a more effective manner.

A workforce management system will provide you with invaluable personal data that can track individual and group absence trends in a way that would have been unimaginable 20 years ago. It can also help you to carry out surveys to assess potential issues that could result in absences while also keeping employees more engaged.

Back to work interviews to manage absences remain a popular and effective tactic. This type of personal approach can help to unearth underlying causes and potentially address them. It can also be a disincentive to those who see paid sick days as unofficial holidays, by sending a clear message that absences will be managed.

Like any form of management, absence management requires that you actively plan, organise, direct, and monitor absences in your organisation. In doing so, you can begin to tackle an issue that will otherwise undermine your profitability.


How can your decrease churn and absenteeism? Learn more about CoreHR’s Absence Management Software  or download our 2018 Research Report “Smart Talent Expects” to understand the needs of your workforce below.

Bruce WalcroftBy Bruce Walcroft

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