The staggering cost of absenteeism to UK organisations made the headlines last week.
This is calculated to have resulted in a total of 175 million lost working days, a deficit that, it says, costs the economy an incredible £13.4bn.
But despite the headlines and high figures, Ben Willmott, an employee relations adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), said workplace absenteeism is not increasing significantly over time. He said there is no consistent pattern, more a yo-yo effect where one year the figures show an increase, the next a decrease.
Indeed, contrary to the CBI survey, the latest CIPD report published in July 2006 shows a slight downturn in absence levels.
Willmott attributes this erratic picture to the fact that many companies only tend to make earnest efforts to tackle absenteeism when it starts to seriously impinge on the business’ performance.
“In a lot of cases absenteeism is only managed proactively when the board starts jumping up and down. But once it’s under control there’s a tendency to take the eye off the ball,” he said.
To make serious inroads into absenteeism, Wilmott believes organisations should make line managers accountable for managing non-attendance at work.
And activities such as conducting return-to-work interviews, referring frequent or long-term absentees to occupational health, and disciplining staff with a bad attendance record should all be objectives on which line managers are given targets and assessed.
But taking a carrot and stick approach to dealing with absenteeism is to a certain extent closing the door after the horse has bolted, according to professor of organisational psychology at Lancaster University Management School, Cary Cooper.