‘Significant’ sickness absence more likely at larger employers than smaller firms

Organisations with 250 or more staff are more likely to have a ‘significant’ absence issue than smaller businesses, with sickness absence rates in larger companies averaging 7.5 days a year, a report has argued.

By contrast, micro businesses with between one and nine staff see their employees take 2.8 days of sick leave a year, a survey of 500 HR managers – 100 of whom worked at larger organisations – found.

Group Risk Development (GRiD), which represents the group risk protection sector and commissioned the survey, found 55% of larger businesses thought they had a higher sickness absence rate than their industry average, with a quarter putting this down to ineffective absence management.

Five per cent of the HR managers polled said they did not record or monitor staff absence at all, though this was more of an issue among SMEs (6%) than organisations with more than 250 staff (1%).

“Keeping tabs on every single member of staff at a larger firm is by no means an easy feat – particularly for companies whose staff travel between or work in multiple locations,” said Katharine Moxham, spokesperson for GRiD.

“However, many of these companies may well already have group risk products in place whereby they can access support for individuals and the organisation as a whole, without requiring any additional expertise or spend.”

GRiD suggested that employers could benefit from intervening on the very first day an employee is on sick leave to ensure they are supported through their illness.

But, it warned, employees may take sick leave for a combination of issues, each of which might need managing in a different way. Employees with musculoskeletal conditions might benefit from fast access to physiotherapy, for example, while those with mental health conditions might need to talk to a therapist or take advantage of an employee assistance programme to help with issues such as relationship problems or addiction.

Moxham urged employers ensure  all their staff knew about the help on offer to them and look at how line managers can advise staff on where they can find better support.

She said: “No single organisation can expect to be an expert on every one of the issues its staff faces but, via the right group risk product, they can provide access to help, which can enable people to stay at or return to work, thus earning a salary and retaining a sense of normality.”

Office for National Statistics figures last month showed that the average number of sick days taken by employees fell to 4.1 in 2017 – the lowest number on record. However, the CIPD warned that this could indicate an increased prevalence of presenteeism.

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