Despite the tough economic environment, employers remain committed to investment in occupational and workplace health, with nearly one-fifth having increased their wellbeing spend in the past year, according to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).
Its annual absence management survey, conducted with healthcare provider Simplyhealth, found nearly half of employers were continuing to invest the same amount in their wellbeing strategies. Giving employees access to counselling services (65%) and assistance programmes (56%) were the most common investments, with the survey also showing greater take-up of insurance by private-sector employers, and growth in health cash plans and private medical insurance.
More widely, the survey provided an indication of current absence trends. The average level of employee absence had fallen compared with last year, from 7.7 to 6.8 days per employee per year. Yet this had coincided with almost one-third of employers reporting an increase in the number of people struggling into work while ill.
The threat of redundancy and concerns over job security were also contributing to a sharp rise in "presenteeism", with organisations expecting to make redundancies in the next six months more likely to report increased presenteeism. Stress-related absence continued to increase, with two-fifths of employers reporting a rise over the past year and just one in 10 reporting a decrease, while stress remained the most common cause of long-term absence.
The level of reported mental health problems among employees, such as anxiety and depression, had also increased, with more than twice the number of employers reporting an increase compared with 2009.
Dr Jill Miller, research adviser at the CIPD, said: "We urge employers to examine whether lower absence levels are a result of more effective absence management or if they reflect the impact of presenteeism."
Other key findings
- Decreases in absence levels were most stark in the public sector, falling to the lowest level in 10 years - 7.9 days per employee per year. But this compared with 5.7 days for workers in the private sector, where absence levels have also fallen since 2011.
- Workload is an increasing stress-related problem, with 57% of organisations listing it in the top three most common causes for absence, compared with 48% in 2011. Other factors cited included organisational change and restructuring.
- Despite increasing problems with stress in the workplace, nearly one-third of respondents reported their organisation was not actively doing anything to reduce it.
- The proportion of organisations with an employee wellbeing strategy or similar has continued to increase, with 55% of respondents reporting one was in place, compared with 46% in 2010 and 2011 and 33% in 2009.
- Stress is currently cited as being the most common cause of long-term absence for non-manual workers (30%) and the joint top cause for manual workers (21%).
- Organisations that evaluated their wellbeing spend were more likely to have increased their spend this year - 44% compared with 16% in 2010 and 2011 - and were more likely to predict it would increase in 2013.