Management of sickness absence is in a mess

A study has shown companies to be woefully ignorant of the ways to tackle
costs of sickness

The average employee is off sick for almost seven days each year, and few
companies have a clear idea of how much it costs them or ways to tackle the
issue, a survey has found.

The study by Norwich Union Healthcare suggests the cost to employers across
the country of sickness absence could be as much as £39bn.

Yet, while three-quarters of companies surveyed by the private medical
insurer said they had clear procedures in place for managing staff absence,
only 25 per cent were confident their procedures were reliable.

And only one in 10 regularly assessed the direct cost to their organisation
of sickness absence.

Incentives such as private medical insurance were often more likely to be
offered to senior staff, where absence levels were lowest, it added.

Those under 25 years old and operational or production workers had the
highest absence rates, followed by women, the over-55s and then people aged

The study questioned 87 firms about how they managed employee absence and
what healthcare benefits they offered.

Only 10 said they regularly assessed the direct cost of sickness absence. Norwich
Union Healthcare has estimated the bill is £534 per employee per year,
equivalent to 3.1 per cent of the annual payroll or £13bn for all UK companies.
Indirect costs brought this up to £39bn, it added.

Most absences were short, 54 per cent being off for up to two days, 28 per
cent for three to five days and 19 per cent for more than six days, but they
often went unrecorded, the survey found.

A total of 95 per cent of the firms surveyed said they had formal policies
or strategies in place for managing absence, but only 3.6 per cent believed
their policies had a major impact on absence levels.

Many firms failed to diagnose causes of absence at an early point. And more
than one in five had no-one in clear responsibility for absence management. The
retail, distribution and leisure sectors emerged as the poorest performers when
it came to managing sickness absence.

Counselling can help reduce absence

Workplace counselling can help reduce
sickness absence by between 25 per cent and 50 per cent, delegates at a
conference on managing work-life balance heard in September.

The conference, by the Teacher Support Network, also heard that
using employee assistance schemes could save schools and local education
authorities between £6m and £13m a year in reduced teacher absence.

Such schemes offer workers counselling, referral to support
services and access to specialist legal, health, financial and family advisers.

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