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Have You Noticed An Increase In Absence Levels Amongst Staff?

If you have noticed an increase in absence levels amongst your staff, you are not alone. The CIPD has recently published its 23rd annual Health and Wellbeing Report [link here – 8436-health-and-wellbeing-report-2023.pdf (cipd.org)] which states that average employee sickness absence, at 7.8 days per employee, is at its highest level for over a decade.

Other key findings of the report were that:

  • Stress remains one of the top causes for long term absence (four weeks or more). According to the report the most common causes for stress related absences were workload and management style.
  • Covid-19 still remains in the top three reasons for short term illness for over a third of the organisations questioned, though this is down from last year.
  • Mental ill health and musculoskeletal injuries are amongst the top causes for both short and long term absence.

Significantly the report also found that “presenteeism” (coming to work when unwell) and “leaveism” (working during time off, including annual leave or when unwell, or working outside contracted hours) remain widespread, with almost nine out of ten organisations reporting presenteeism (87%) and 63% observing leaveism.

What are businesses doing to address this?

The report notes that the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in a significant change to the way many organisations approach health and wellbeing, with the number of organisations introducing wellbeing strategies and stand-alone health policies increasing year on year. Examples of stand-alone polices include those dealing with mental health training, menopause and menstrual health.  These in turn reflect a growing cultural change in society fuelled by increased awareness, understanding and acceptance.

The report also shows financial wellbeing has received more attention this year, with 57% of organisations promoting it to a large or moderate extent compared with 44% in 2022.

However, the report also highlights that there is still substantial room for improvement with only 30% of organisations involved providing guidance or training for managers on how to support people with health conditions to help them remain in the workplace.

What can you do?

  1. Be mindful of topical issues which could impact your staff’s physical and mental wellbeing. Anticipating concerns, adapting the support and services you offer and training staff on how to support and communicate with staff can help get ahead of absences arising because of these changes.
  2. Actively implement effective policies and procedures. If used properly, this not only enables your employees to understand what is expected of them, but it can help you with consistency of treatment or in identifying distinguishing factors in a particular scenario.
  3. Offer, or even mandate, training so that managers and other staff in a support role and those who deal with absences know the policies and procedures you have and how they should be implemented effectively and consistently.
  4. Monitor absences so that you have an accurate understanding of the level and patterns of sickness absence. This can help you identify not only issues with individuals but also more widespread concerns and allow you to address it before it escalates.
  5. If you do not do so already, consider how you record absences and whether you are able to separate pregnancy related absences, disability related absences and absences related to workplace injuries as these may need to be discounted when certain decisions are made.
  6. Make appropriate contact with staff who are off sick, striking a balance between offering support and obtaining relevant information without unduly pressurising the individual.
  7. Make use of return-to-work interviews, for example so you can understand what has caused the absence and whether any workplace factors are contributing such as stress, bullying or an accident at work or if any reasonable adjustments may need to be made to facilitate return.
  8. Seek medical input where appropriate, identifying the appropriate professional from whom to obtain advice.
  9. Consider use of permanent health insurance (if available) or ill-health retirement where appropriate, ensuring that a fair process is followed.

If you need assistance navigating the law around sickness and other absences, please contact your usual legal adviser or a member of the Morr & Co Employment Team at [email protected].


Although correct at the time of publication, the contents of this newsletter/blog are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute, legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article. Please contact us for the latest legal position.

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