Headlines: October 15th, 2013

Sick absence has risen to the 2010 level and more employers are using flexible working in response to the rising trend.

The annual CIPD/Simplyhealth Absence Management survey reveals that, after a small decrease reported in last year’s survey, absence is back up to the levels observed in 2011 and 2010, at an average of 8.7 days per employee per year in the public services sector. Absence is lower in the private sector at 7.6 days per employee. In the
manufacturing and production sector it is 6 days per employee per year. Absence levels tend to increase with organisation size, regardless of sector.

With absence levels on the rise again, employers are attaching growing importance to making changes to working patterns and environments, as a means of managing long-term absence levels: 85% of employers reported that they’d adjusted working patterns this year, compared to just 65% in last year’s survey. This spike bucks the trend of previous years, with figures only marginally improving by 2% between 2010 and 2012.

Overall, two-thirds of working time lost to absence is accounted for by short-term absences of up to seven days. A fifth is attributed to long-term absences, four weeks or more. There are, however, significant sector differences. Just under half of absence in the public sector is short term, compared with over three-quarters in the private sector. Smaller organisations attribute a higher proportion of their absence to short-term leave compared with larger organisations.

The data suggests that employers are actively looking at what reasonable adjustments can be made at work to help employees return after a period of absence. For example, small changes to working hours, such as 10-6 instead of 9-5, could help employees better balance their responsibilities in and outside of work.

The benefit of changes to working patterns has been recognised by many employers, with over 70% of organisations reporting a positive impact on employee motivation and employee engagement. A further 46% also stated they were using flexible working options to support employees with mental health problems.

Flexible working patterns are also increasingly being used as a tool to manage short-term absence. This is particularly important given two thirds of working time lost to absence is accounted for by short-term absence. Worryingly a quarter of organisations say ‘pulling a sickie’ is still a common cause of short-term absence, which is an increase on last year’s figure of 17%.

Helen Dickinson, spokesperson for Simplyhealth UK said “The role of the line manager is essential. Flexible working works well when line managers and employers are aware of the different lifestyle demands employees may have. By helping employees to manage those demands better and perhaps adapting how, when or where the employee works can help to achieve greater commitment and motivation. As well as the employer’s role, employees must recognise that flexibility is two way and being adaptable to help the organisation succeed too. It is about building an environment where the employee can have open and honest conversations about the challenges they are facing.”