UK employees take an average of nine days off each year, but managers believe that about a third of that absence - nearly three days a year - is not due to genuine ill health.
There is also a considerable amount of ‘hidden’ absence, caused by managers under-reporting their own absence.
These are key findings in the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development’s second annual survey into UK employee absence. And the results show little change from its 2000 absence survey.
Of the 1,466 organisations that responded to the survey, about one-third believe that such under-reporting occurs. On average, respondents estimate that just over a quarter (27%) of managers’ absence goes unreported.
Diane Sinclair, CIPD adviser in employee relations, says that organisations need to develop an open culture and that honesty is an essential ingredient in tackling absence. She says: “The majority of employees don’t want to let their employer down, and if managers treat people like grown-ups, they’ll act like grown-ups.”
The average cost of sickness absence is $683 for each employee each year, representing an estimated cost of $16.8 billion to the economy as a whole. This shows no significant change from last year. Nearly all organisations (94%) report sickness absence to be a “very significant business burden”.
Sinclair says: “Organisations can make huge savings by managing absence. They should look at their rates compared with similar entities and assess the impact of high absence levels on their bottom line. Strategies for tackling the problem include return-to-work interviews, redesigning jobs and flexible working hours.”
The most common reasons given for time off work due to sickness are minor illnesses such as colds or flu. Stress is seen as the main cause of longer-term absence among non-manual staff, while for manual workers, back pain is the second most important factor.
The CIPD surveyed 1,466 organisations, together employing over 2 million people, across the UK economy in February 2001.
Other key findings
• Nearly one-fifth of employers do not know the level of sickness absence in their organisation.
• Most employers (84%) consider that it is possible to reduce their current level of sickness absence.
• Only a minority of employers has a target for reducing aggregate absence rates.
• Public sector employers seem to take a more active approach to the management of employee absence than those in the private sector.
• Return-to-work interviews are regarded as the best way of handling short- term absence, while involving occupational health professionals is key in the management of longer-term absences. Notes to editors
About The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development
the CIPD has over 107,000 members and is the leading UK professional institute for those involved in the management and development of people.