UK sickness absence on the rise, warns Xpert HR

UK Employers are losing a median 2.9% of their working time to employee absence, according to a new report from HR website XpertHR.

This equates to 6.6 days per employee, and represents an increase on the figures for previous years. The findings are based on absence for the 2016 calendar year at 631 organisations.

The survey highlights the difference in absence rates between different sectors of the economy. Within the public sector, a median 4% of working time is lost to absence, equivalent to 9.1 days per employees. This compares with 2.6% of time in the private sector, or around 6 days per employee.

We also see absence rates increase with organisation size. While the smallest organisations (those with less than 100 employees) lose just 1.8% of working time, or 4 days per employee, absence within organisations with 1,000 or more employees accounts for 3.8% of working time, or 8.8 days per employee.

While these figures represent a slight increase on the data for the 2015 calendar year (when 2.6% of working time, or 5.8 days per employee, was recorded), they remain comfortably lower than when XpertHR started collecting data more than a decade ago. Back in 2006, a median 3.5% of working time was lost to absence, equivalent to 8 days per employee (see table at end).

There are a number of factors that can influence absence rates. Increased interest in HR metrics at an organisation level is likely to result in better recording of absence among the workforce – with the potential for their rates to increase as a result. For an employee perspective, higher engagement levels are likely to result in less time off for absence.

Cost of absence

Providing cover for absent employees represents a significant cost for employers, who estimate the cost to be £455 per employee per year. However, many employers focus on the cost of paying sick pay for absent employees and fail to quantify factors such as the cost of cover, reduced performance or service, or missed business opportunities, which are likely to make the ultimate cost significantly higher.

XpertHR managing editor for pay and HR practice Sheila Attwood said:

“High levels of employee sickness absence represent a significant financial cost to the business, and can have an impact on its operations and the wellbeing of those having to cover for absent colleagues. Employers should use the data they collect on absence rates to be proactive in effectively managing absence in their organisation.”

Sickness absence management expert Adrian Lewis of Activ Absence believes most businesses don’t do enough to adequately report on sickness absence.  He says:

“In our experience, a lot of businesses don’t even keep proper records of sickness absence, thinking that the ‘odd day’ doesn’t matter.  We’ve worked with some large companies who had to regularly book temporary cover for people who skive off on bank holiday Tuesday, but nobody could identify who the regular culprits were!


“Some employers worry that keeping better track will make employees feel like Big Brother is watching.  However, it’s common for employers using our software to see higher levels of staff engagement.  


“Absence statistics and analysis from absence management software can reveal far more than just who’s off, when.  It can highlight a need for retraining in a certain department, it can highlight mental health issues early on, supports employees on long term sickness and can really help businesses prioritise their wellbeing spend. Keeping a closer eye on absence won’t just help reduce absenteeism, it helps managers support staff better – which we’ve found cuts absence by 25-30%.”

Author: Editorial Team

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