The CIPD’s Absence Management Survey provides the most comprehensive breakdown of sickness absence in the UK.
Now in its fifteenth year, it surveyed 518 employers across the UK and Ireland to discover the extent of employee absence, its causes and the initiatives being used by companies to combat its effect.
Here are six of the most interesting insights from the 2014 report.
1/ Absence reaches lowest point for five years
Employee absence has dropped to a five-year low after the average rate improved from 7.6 days lost per employee in 2013 to 6.6 days this year.
This was reflected in a downward trend across all industry sectors, except manufacturing and production, where rates have remained fairly consistent.
However, there is a growing gap in absence rates between those working in manual and non-manual jobs, the average manual employee losing 7.2 days per year and the average non-manual employee losing 4.4 days.
The absence rate is also largely proportional to the size of the organisation. Companies employing less than 50 staff lost an average of 3.9 days per employee compared to 8.8 days among those employing more than 5,000 staff.
2/ Presenteeism continues to present a problem
Although overall absence levels have fallen, a third of companies have noticed a rise in ‘presenteeism’, a trend of employees attending work while sick.
This could represent a significant problem, as levels of presenteeism have been found to be linked to work-related stress.
Of those organisations who noticed an increase in presenteeism, 61 per cent also reported an increase in stress-related absence, compared to only 36 per cent of companies who did not report a rise in people coming to work ill.
There is a similar relationship with mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression, with 58 per cent of organisations who noticed a rise in presenteeism also seeing more of these conditions. The figure was only 34 per cent for all other companies.
3/ Mental health issues still on the rise
Two-fifths of organisations have reported an increase in stress-related absence over the past year, while just one in ten have noticed a decrease.
Workload and volume of work is cited as the biggest cause of stress, named in the top three causes by 56 per cent of respondents. Non-work factors (36 per cent), management style (34 per cent) and relationships at work (27 per cent) were also significant factors.
Forty-three per cent of companies also claim to have observed an increase in mental health problems (such as anxiety and depression), although the problem is greatest for larger organisations.
Almost three-quarters of organisations with more than 5,000 employees report an increase, compared with half of those with 250 to 999 staff and 27 per cent of those with fewer than 50.
4/ Stress a major cause of long-term absence
Stress remains the number one cause of long-term absence for non-manual workers.
It was named among the top-five most common causes by 64 per cent of respondents, followed by acute medical conditions (61 per cent), mental ill-health (54 per cent) and musculoskeletal injuries (49 per cent).
Stress also ranks third among manual workers, named among the top-five causes by 55 per cent of respondents, although musculoskeletal injuries have significantly more impact in this sector (57 per cent), second only to acute medical conditions (58 per cent).
Minor illness remains the most common cause of short-term absence, followed by musculoskeletal injuries, back pain and stress.
5/ Line managers given more responsibility
The overall decline in absence coincides with a differing approach to absence management among employers.
Half of those surveyed say they have introduced changes to some aspect of their approach in the last year, with the biggest trend being a move to give line managers more responsibility for managing absence.
Sixty-one per cent of respondents in this year’s survey claim to have developed line manager capability to manage absence, compared to just 39 per cent in 2013. There has also been an increased focus on attendance strategies, rising from 21 per cent in 2013 to 42 per cent this year.
6/ Rise in absence due to caring responsibilities
There is a growing trend of staff taking time off in order to care for children or elderly relatives. More than one in three employers report that absence has been affected because workers need time for caring responsibilities,
Flexible working is the most common type of support that organisations provide to employees who are carers, used by 68 per cent of companies surveyed, followed by compassionate leave (53 per cent) or carers’ leave (48 per cent).
Two-fifths also offer access to counselling services and three in ten offer career breaks and sabbaticals.