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Flexible working reduces absenteeism

12 July 2001 - New research reported by the Industrial Society indicates that flexible working patterns can help to reduce absenteeism. Managing Attendance, the Industrial Society's recent survey report on absence, shows that absence rates fell from an average of eight days per employee to 6.5 days during the last 18 months among almost 300 firms surveyed.

49% of survey respondents linked this improvement to having flexible annual leave; 40% to the ability to work from home on occasions and 55% to flexible working hours.

HR specialists from 292 organizations were surveyed, including Boots the Chemist, Inland Revenue, London Underground, Norfolk Probation Service, Sheffield City Council and Vauxhall.

Absence reporting is becoming more common: 40% of surveyed organizations report all absences with an additional 33% reporting 9 out of 10 instances. Overall, this is an increase of 8% since 1999 but, strangely, there has been a reduction in the number of firms who measure the cost of absenteeism from 54% of organizations in 1996 to 41% now.

Reported reasons for absences have not changed with 91% of employees reporting time off for flu or colds, 74% giving stomach upsets or food poisoning as the reason for being off sick and 54% citing headaches or migraines. But employers felt that only 65% cited colds and flu as the main reason for employee absence with 43% blaming stress and emotional problems. 37% of HR specialists also thought that a proportion of sickness absence was due to the need for employees to take time off to look after a child or other family member.

Motivation (64%) and return-to-work interviews (63%) were cited by employers as the most effective ways of managing attendance.

According to Theo Blackwell, Policy Specialist at The Industrial Society, "Left unchecked, absenteeism hits productivity and erodes morale in organisations. Firms should regularly examine the causes of absence and take appropriate action -by promoting workplace well being or flexible working practices."

He added that, "This report provides even more evidence of the business case for flexible working. According to HR professionals more flexibility seems to equal less time off sick and a healthier, happier and more loyal workforce."

"Now the Government's new Taskforce on Flexible Working has yet more evidence backing up the business case behind a meaningful legal right for employees to have their request to change the terms of their contracts considered fully and fairly by the employer."



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