Absence increase has negative impact across businesses

This winter’s heavy flu outbreak cost firms as much as £181 million a week in January, according to one absence management firm.

FirstCare, which works with a range of public and private sector organisations, said that it recorded cold- and flu-related absences for the first week of January to be trending approximately 12% higher than for the same period in 2009.

This meant that employers would be having to absorb the £181 million cost of losing 1,097,000 days to absence during the first week back to work in what was already a tough year where employers have been struggling with harsh weather, as well as generally difficult economic conditions.

Although the high rate of absence has affected both the public and private sectors, cough-, cold- and flu- (CCF) related absence was higher within public sector organisations, the survey found.

The NHS lost 71,900 days in that first week, at cost of more than £11.8 million, it was calculated.

The public health watchdog, the Health Protection Agency (HPA), suggested there was a “mixed picture” of flu activity across the UK during December and January.

“Some indicators are suggesting that the level of flu activity is beginning to plateau but this should be interpreted with caution,” warned the agency.

Influenza A H1N1 (2009), or “swine” flu, and Influenza B remained the predominant strains circulating, although sporadic cases of H3N2 are also said to have been reported.

A small proportion of flu cases were resulting in severe disease, particularly in people under the age of 65, it added.

Professor John Watson, head of the respiratory diseases department at the HPA, said: “It is important that people do all they can to reduce the spread of the virus and they can do this by maintaining good cough and hand hygiene, such as covering your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough and sneeze, disposing of the tissue as soon as possible and cleaning your hands as soon as you can.

“These are all important actions that can help prevent the spread of germs and reduce the risk of flu transmission,” he added.

XpertHR provides further guidance on dealing with long-term sickness absence.

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