Absence rates are more likely to fall when HR managers, not line managers, take responsibility for managing absence, research by the CBI has found.
The discovery challenges the conventional wisdom that line managers should be principally accountable for the problem and for dealing with it and that HR’s role should be an advisory and supportive one.
“Line managers need to be involved, but they should not take primary responsibility,” said Jamie Bell, senior policy adviser at the CBI and author of the annual absence report.
“Our statistics show that absence is lower where senior or HR managers take primary responsibility.”
Bell said this is because it is easier for someone removed from the situation to intervene.
“An employee will tell an HR manager things they will not tell someone they work with. It is often easier for HR managers, who don’t have the job of motivating staff, to act without wrecking the working relationship.”
He added that putting someone senior in charge shows commitment to dealing with the problem from above.
But Angela Probert, head of personnel for social services at Nottingham City Council, where absence among staff has halved in two years, said getting line managers to take responsibility is essential.
“Our evidence shows that where we have empowered line managers, absence has come down. It needs to be a partnership approach. HR should be involved, but the mistake in the past was to see it purely as an HR issue. Line managers need to take ownership and be accountable.”
The CBI report, sponsored by PPP Healthcare, found overall absence fell slightly in 1999 to an average of 7.8 days per employee compared with 8.5 in 1998. The cost to business was £438 per worker, and £10.5bn in total.
The report will be available on 1 June. Contact: 020-7395 8071.