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2017 sickness absence rates are the lowest on record

ONS records show that the average employee took just over 4 days absence in 2017, a substantial drop. What’s behind this and what does this mean for your own absence records? Our article looks at workplace absenteeism and how to tackle it.

ONS records show that the average employee took just over 4 days absence in 2017, a substantial drop.  What’s behind this and what does this mean for your own absence records?  This article looks at workplace absenteeism and 'presenteeism' and how to tackle it.

Office for National Statistics records for 2017 show a drop in absence rates to just 1.6%, equating to 4.1 days per employee in 2017.  Traditionally rates have hovered around the 2 – 2.5% mark, and while it’s impossible to say what’s driving this many commentators believe that the downward trend may be due to job uncertainty, possibly because of Brexit.

Of course the obvious answer may be that in 2017 employees were less ill than in previous years, but the reality is we know that some employees, by no means all but some, will take time off when they don’t really need to.  If we accept that as a fact then what the statistics must reveal is that, assuming sickness levels are more or less constant, employees are less inclined to take a ‘sicky’, perhaps for fear of job security.  There is however another possibility in that employees who are genuinely ill are more inclined to struggle into work than take time off, perhaps because of the same uncertainty about their job security.

This is known as ‘presenteeism’ and can cause problems, obviously for the health of the employee who would be better off recovering, but also for other employees and productivity generally. A sick employee might contaminate others, and is unlikely to be performing at their best, leading to the possibility of errors and even safety concerns.

A wise employer will keep an eye on their staff and be prepared to address situations where an obviously sick employee turns up to work.  Where the lack of sick pay is a reason for the employee’s perseverance, it is open to the employer to grant sick pay.  While it’s true that most smaller employers provide SSP only, one option is to provide on a discretionary basis up to 5 days normal pay as sick pay, this being the amount of sick absence (more based on 2017) we could reasonably expect the average person to have. If this is to be introduced a change to employment contracts will normally be required.

But what should an employer do if their short term (by which I mean a day or two here and there) sickness absence levels are higher than the national average?  Many employers shy away from ‘managing’ absence, but actually it is very controllable and is a basic management discipline. Step 1 might be to contact myHRdept to discuss a particular employee’s case, but step 2 will be always the same – make the employee aware of the problem.

Early in my career I was appointed as HR Manager for a biscuit factory with a thousand employees and a sickness rate of 11%, perhaps due to the very generous company sick pay on offer.  I implemented a simple system which involved a review with any employee who triggered more than 3 absences or 10 days in a year. If we had reasons to suspect that the employee wasn’t really trying as hard as they might to attend, an option was to withdraw company sick pay.  Absence dropped to around 3% pretty quickly, saving the business hundreds of thousands of pounds and increasing stability.

These days at HR outsourcing business myHRdept we help our SME clients to manage absence and provide simple cost effective systems to accurately record it in the first place.

We made a video to show how to (and how not to) manage an absence discussion, and if you like you can view it here.

If you're thinking of outsourcing your HR why not contact myhrdept.co.uk. With HR Outsource packages from only £140 per month (and from as little as £80 per month for start-ups) and support for HR Projects available for one-off issues, we believe we offer the best combination of quality and price available in the UK. Call us on 01628 820515 to discuss your requirements contact us and we’ll call you back.