Is The UK A Sick Nation?

Out sick todayWow there has been a lot of coverage about the cost of absence to employers and the UK economy in the press recently. According to research carried about by PricewaterhouseCooper (PwC) UK workers take more than FOUR times as many days off work sick as those in other countries, there must surely be something wrong?

While the survey shows that UK employees were taking fewer unscheduled absence days compared with two years ago (9.8 days in 2013 compared with 10.1 days in 2011), the number of these days taken off due to illness rose (9.1 days in 2013, up from 8.7 days in 2011). Therefore, the associated cost of staff sickness had also risen with sick days now accounting for £28.8 billion of the UK’s overall £31.1 billion absence bill. That’s a lot of money spent on employee sickness absence every year.

PwC’s findings have been challenged by the CBI/Pfizer Fit for Purpose survey. It argued that the average absence rate was 5.3 days in 2012, down from 6.5 days in 2010, which actually saved businesses £3 billion, although overall absence is still costing the UK economy £14 billion.

I read that, shockingly, almost £1.8 billion was lost from an estimated one-in-eight sick days taken for non-genuine reasons. Actually, in my experience, it is usually higher than this and several companies we work with achieve reductions in unscheduled absence by as much as 40%.

So, what sort of things can employers do to help reduce overall absence?

One way is by introducing flexible working practices and supporting by employee self-service. Technology that helps managers take into consideration employee preferences like an automated scheduling tool can make a real difference.

Good management of absenteeism is also important. Industrial psychologists suggest that any organisations with a sizable workforce should consider the 20:60:20 rule.  This is where the workforce comprises 20% superstars, 60% good solid workers and 20% that need that little extra attention. If employers neglect managing the 20% that need that little extra attention, it has a detrimental effect on the engagement in the other 80% of the workforce. Employees do feel resentful if management is lacking and the productivity of even the best performers can be adversely affected.

Here’s 10 Top Tips that can help any organisation to reduce absence:

1. Capture absence and highlight to managers and supervisors. Capture absence in real-time and advise managers immediately so that they can deal with it appropriately. The old adage that you can’t measure what you don’t measure is absolutely true in the case of absence management.

2. Have a clear absence policy. If you don’t have one already, an absence policy to balance employee and employer needs is the first step to addressing any potential problems. And the communication of this policy to all employees makes clear what is acceptable and expected of them.

3. Return to work interviews. These can be particularly effective in quickly understanding the reasons for absence. Speed of interview is important so consider an automated prompt to highlight exactly when an employee has returned.

4. Offer flexible scheduling. Allowing employees to select and swap shifts at short notice has been proven to reduce absenteeism.

5. Consider unpaid leave or options to buy more holiday time. Planned absence is always easier for a business to manage than unscheduled absence. Offer staff the opportunity to book unpaid leave up to a maximum number of days or buy additional holidays at the start of the year.

6. Make controlling absence a business priority. There’s no excuse not to be in control of absence. Business tools are available to control and monitor absence levels and trends – you can even set the parameters to alert you to all unscheduled absence the moment it happens.

7. Enforce the absence policy. Any absence policy needs to be monitored and enforced consistently and fairly throughout the organisation to curb unscheduled absence and unauthorised sick days – more than half of employed adults believe that their work performance is negatively impacted when attendance policies are not fairly enforced.

8. Provide incentives for excellent attendance. In large organisations, time and attendance systems are an invaluable tool for tracking and reporting on attendance levels. Many organisations effectively use perfect attendance bonuses as an incentive to reduce absence levels.

9. Be realistic. Sometimes people really do need to take some time out that simply cannot be planned. Allow staff to take a maximum number of days each year as “Duvet Days” at short notice. This will likely improve morale and get better results out of your employees in the long term.

10. Make absence management part of your long-term business plan. Managing absence is critical for organisations of all type and sizes. Organisations can benefit from a well-designed, consistently monitored absence policy.



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