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Absence Management In Ireland

January 8 2009 - A recent article in the Irish Times highlighted a campaign to control excessive absenteeism by the Health Service Executive (HSE). Under the Health Act, 2004, the HSE has assumed responsibility for Health and Personal Social Services for everyone living in the Republic of Ireland. It replaced ten regional health boards and a variety of other organisations and is now Ireland's largest employer with over 130,000 employees.

The HSE's 2009 Service Plan featured increases in service provisions and reductions in costs, including savings in staffing areas such as:

  • work practice reform (redeployment of staff, more flexible working arrangements)
  • sick leave
  • absenteeism
  • overtime
  • use of agency workers
  • allowances, and
  • a 3% reduction in management/administration staff through planned redundancies

According to the Irish Times, HSE has been auditing absenteeism levels for several months. Unpublished figures from October indicate an average level of 5% lost hours due to absenteeism in the main teaching hospitals. However, the level in some hospital sections is much higher: for example, running at 12% among general support staff at the Midwest Regional Hospital in Limerick.

The newspaper cites the intention of HSE's national HR director to eliminate "double-digit absenteeism or inappropriately high sickness levels where they occur."

Monitoring absenteeism

A survey by Mercer Human Resource Consulting in 2006 found that almost two-thirds (65%) of Irish businesses made no attempt to calculate the annual cost of absenteeism to their companies. Moreover, the survey of top Irish businesses found that most had no idea about the impact of employee absences on their direct or indirect costs.

According to Kevin Kinsella, a consultant at Mercer Human Resource Consulting:

"Our experience in this area and indeed our research demonstrates that reporting and measurement of absence plays a very effective role in reducing absence levels. However, many companies take a casual and sporadic approach to absence management and fail to actively manage a major cost driver."

The survey also found that:

  • 26% of those surveyed estimated the cost of absenteeism to be more than 500,000 euros a year
  • Minor illnesses were the most frequently cited causes for absence, amounting to 33.2% of days lost
  • Almost 20% of absences were due to musculoskeletal illnesses and back pain
  • 90% of surveyed organizations said that 'recording' of absence was their number one tool in combating absence levels
  • 20% of surveyed organizations reported absence levels in excess of 6% per annum
  • 65% did not calculate the cost of absence to their business
  • 45% of managers whose responsibilities included dealing with employee absence had not received relevant training
  • 41% of managers with responsibilities in this area had no formal targets

The Mercer Human Resource Consulting survey shows that senior managers are highly aware that 'absence management' is an issue for their business, but very few companies are taking an appropriate, strategic approach to reducing absenteeism in their businesses, said Kevin Kinsella.

"There will always be short term absence in organisations. Mercer's experience and research suggests that there is no one 'magic cure' to manage sickness absence. The introduction of a range of simple measures such as: absence reporting, early interventions on health issues, the provision of health insurance and the provision of support and training for line managers, can however, dramatically reduce absenteeism levels," he said.

The Mercer view is that the cost of employee sick days can have an impact on overall competitiveness so it is important that organizations review and manage their absence procedures. Mercer believes that effective reporting and measurement can drive behavioral change particularly when supported by senior management.



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