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Absence Levels

October 9 2012 - The latest CIPD Absence Survey shows a drop from an average of 7.7 to 6.8 days per employee. The survey of 667 employers was conducted in June 2012.

However, the CIPD believe that there is a strong element of 'presenteeism' involved as one third of employers report sick staff coming to work. The fear of redundancy seems to be playing an important part as those organizations expecting to reduce their staffing levels over the next 6 months are more likely to report unwell employees turning up for work than those organizations that do not expect to shed staff.

Dr Jill Miller, CIPD Research Adviser said:

"On the face of it, the findings from this year's survey present some positive news. But we must air caution before celebrating lower absence levels because they may be masking deeper problems in the workplace. This year sees a continued increase in presenteeism which can have a damaging effect on organizations' productivity. Not only can illnesses be passed on to other colleagues, but ill employees are likely to work less effectively than usual, may be more prone to making costly mistakes and take longer to recover from their illnesses.

"Continuing economic uncertainty and fears over job security appears to be taking its toll on employees. We are seeing employees struggling into work to demonstrate their commitment, suggesting presenteeism can be a sign of anxiety. Failing to address employees' concerns is likely to confound the issue, impact on morale and commitment and may cause or exacerbate stress or mental health problems.

"We urge employers to examine whether lower absence levels within their own organizations are as a result of more effective absence management or if they reflect the negative impact of presenteeism. Overall a proactive approach to supporting employee wellbeing and managing absence, which includes training managers in how to manage people effectively and early access to occupational health services, remains critical for success."

Key survey findings include:

  • 40 per cent said that stress-related absence has increased. Just 10 per cent said it had decreased over the last year.
  • Stress was cited as the most common cause of long-term absence - 30% for non-manual workers and 21% for manual workers..
  • Reports of mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression have doubled since 2009.
  • Companies recording a high level of stress- and mental health-related absence also reported higher levels of presenteeism compared to organizations with lower reported absence for those reasons.
  • Absence levels in public sector organizations had fallen to the lowest level in 10 years, averaging 7.9 days per employee. But this still compared unfavourably with an average of 5.7 days in the private sector.
  • The causes of work-related stress were reported as: workload, organizational change and management style.
  • 31% of respondents said that their organizations were doing nothing about stress, despite its effects.
  • 55% of respondents said that their organizations had well-being strategies in place compared with 33% in 2009.

Helen Dickinson, People Director, Simplyhealth commented:

"It's fair to say that the double dip recession is having an impact on business health as well as employee wellbeing, with this years survey showing a clear rise in presenteeism. The link between presenteeism and job insecurity is unsurprising. Increasing workloads coupled with worries about job security and financial challenges could be a contributory factor to stress and mental health issues being highlighted as two of the most common causes of long term absence in the workplace.

"Last year saw stress become the number one cause of workplace absence for the first time, and that trend has continued this year. In contrast, it's good to see well-being strategies increasing amongst businesses, with the survey showing 55% of organisations now have one in place compared to only 30% in 2008. This means that there is focus on doing what's best for employees and improving business health. The vital role of line managers within wellbeing strategies cannot be disputed. Early detection of health issues and ensuring the correct support is in place helps people with health problems stay in or return to work."

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