Employers underestimate absence levels by almost 20%

Most employers underestimate absence levels by almost 20%, experts have claimed.

An absence management tool from the private healthcare division of insurance firm Axa ICAS was trialled on 1,600 of its staff, resulting in a drop in absence rates to 3.6% and a saving of more than £14,000 per month. The tool focused on team-based trends rather than individual-based ones to identify problem areas.

David Prosser, business manager at Axa ICAS, said most employers had patchy and inconsistent data, which came at a cost to the bottom line.

“When you drill down, many organisations don’t have accurate data on absence at all,” he told Personnel Today. “We were clearly under-recording absence, even though we thought we had a robust method of capturing details, but it became clear we were missing about 17%, which our research shows is about how much most organisations miss.”

Prosser said the tool, which requires absent staff to call the service and go through automated prompts, would send alerts to line managers to indicate trends that needed addressing. He said many absence problems came down to a team’s culture.

“You can have two teams in the same department doing the same job, yet still have completely different rates of absence,” he said. “Our conclusion was that the key drivers behind absence are not different medical issues, but about line manager capability and employee attitude.

“We spent a lot of time upskilling line managers to treat absence as genuine but still manage the issue, so they can make employees understand the importance of absence, but not put someone with one or two days off per year under an inquisition. Those skills made a big difference.”

The research found that after 12 months, the top 50% of teams with the lowest absence rates accounted for less than a quarter of the company’s total absence costs.

Axa has previously called for a shake-up of absence definitions.

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