Employee sickness absence is on the up. Recent data from the CIPD has shown that the average rate of employee absence due to ill health has increased to 7.8 working days per year in the UK, up from 5.8 days pre-pandemic in 2019. This surge in sickness absence has significant implications for small to medium-sized organisations, especially as they grapple with recruitment and retention challenges.
One of the most noteworthy findings is that more than three-quarters (76%) of organisations reported stress-related absences. Stress has emerged as a significant factor for both short-term and long-term absences, making it essential for organisations to address this issue effectively.
By placing a strong focus on the well-being of their employees and strengthening their support systems, employers can proactively reduce stress-related absences, ultimately fostering a healthier and more productive workforce.
Now is the Time
As we come into the autumn and winter periods where employee sickness absence can naturally rise, it is a good time to review your approach to managing absence. According to Rachel Suff of the CIPD, to tackle these challenges, organisations need to adopt a systemic and preventative approach to workplace health.
1. Open and Supportive Culture
Establish an open and supportive culture where employees feel comfortable coming forward to discuss health issues with their line managers. This will create an environment of trust and encourage early intervention. Encourage line managers to have regular check ins and wellbeing conversations with their teams.
This is key and something all employers can embrace regardless of their budget for wellbeing supports.
2. Flexible Working Options
Employers can consider offering flexible working arrangements that are appropriate to their business, which can be a crucial tool in preventing absences. Flexible work hours and remote work options can help employees balance their work and personal lives, reducing stress and burnout.
3. Health Benefit Plans
Promote any health schemes with you have in place within the business such as private healthcare, Employee Assistance programmes (EAP), gym memberships. Highlight the benefits that these services provide, there can be more to them than meets the eye. Ensure employees are utilising and getting the benefit of their full range of services.
4. Health and Wellbeing Programs
Get creative and look to implement health and wellbeing programs that promote physical and mental health. Encourage employees to prioritise their well-being, and provide resources such as fitness initiatives, mental health workshops, and access to counselling services.
Consider the provision of once off or seasonal health services such flu vaccinations, and on-site health check-up and optional screening, a wellness day off for employees to avail of.
This approach can be especially useful to those businesses who do not currently have health plans as part of their benefits offering.
5. Robust Policies
Naturally, it is important to have robust absence policies in place that both employers and managers are clear about and committed to. These policies include absence notification procedures, return to work interviews, well-ness meetings and occupational health referrals.
The trend of increased absence due to illness and stress related illness is likely to remain a topic for business for the foreseeable future. By taking a systemic and preventative approach, creating an open and supportive culture, and offering resources like flexible working options and health services, businesses can address this issue effectively.
If you’d like more personalised advice or assistance in implementing these strategies or creating appropriate polices for your business, please feel free to reach out to our team of experienced HR Consultants. We are here to support your organisation in managing absences and fostering a healthier workplace. Contact us today to see how we can support your business journey.
Laura Banfield, Voltedge Management Senior HR Consultant