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Tackling absenteeism

20 February 2024 - Twenty years ago, the famous Henley Report stated that UK manufacturers were doing more to tackle the growing problem of long-term employee absence but complained about lack of adequate support from the National Health Service. Since the COVID pandemic, absenteeism has re-emerged as a significant problem.

A recent report from global advisory, broking and solutions company WTW, (NASDAQ: WTW), a leading global advisory, broking and solutions company found that 34% of 128 UK businesses surveyed had experienced increased employee absence in the previous year. Surveyed employers recorded an average of 4.8 days lost per worker per year.

Causes of absenteeism

The main causes of increased absence that employers wanted to address were:

  • Mental health issues,
  • minor illness, and
  • long-term disability

The survey identified three nearly equal consequences:

  • increased costs for absence management and occupational health support (38%)
  • increased use of Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) services (38%)
  • increased health insurance claims

63% of organisations said that lack of managerial capability has been a serious barrier to managing absence as well as lack of understanding on the costs and trends of absence (44%). Charlotte Steventon-Kiy, Absence Management Lead at WTW said:

"The costs associated with absence alone highlight the need for companies to make employee wellbeing a top priority. It is crucial to maximise the use of data to drive insights and measure the success of mechanisms in place. This will ensure that the levels of support continue to be appropriate from both a prevention and absence management perspective."

Absenteeism strategies

Cost management remains an issue, but half of organisations (52%) were planning to implement modelling to estimate the cost of absence over the next two years. Other. strategies for tackling employee absence issues included:

  • Planning to prioritise reviewing and updating policies as part of their absence strategy (44%)
  • Targeting employees at higher risk of absence (35%)
  • Enhancing absence tracking systems (34%)

The report argues that companies effective at managing absence have put strong processes in place to record absence and understand the costs involved. They have prioritised systems that support managers, and implemented programmes that support employees to return to work.

Support for employees returning from periods of absence included:

  • Using early intervention services to help employees to return to work sooner (69%)
  • Creating streamlined long-term disability processes with insurer and occupational health care provider integration (62%)
  • Reducing pressure on employees such as increasing flexibility around working schedules

"It is becoming increasingly evident that the way organisations manage absence isn't working. The need for a clear strategy inclusive of absence processes, cost measurement and clear employee signposting is fundamental in ensuring employees are supported and can be integrated back into the workplace following a period of absence. Our absence consulting services and in house Occupational Health support have helped many of our clients achieve success in these areas," concluded Charlotte Steventon-Kiy.



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