Like Sea Levels, Absence Levels Are Rising. Is Flexible Working The Answer?

Rising Sea LevelsMore than 35 million days are lost each year to sickness absence in the UK, a Fit for Work Europe Coalition report has found – that’s a lot of lost productivity and a huge cost to organisations, and the fact that the UK has the highest incidence of sickness absence, along with Germany, is shocking although it seems par for the course.

The CIPD /Simplyhealth Absence Survey 2013 has just been published and confirms what I already suspected would happen; that the economic downturn and the fears of job losses and financial pressures that led to the small decrease reported in last year’s survey has now reversed and absence is now back up to the levels observed in 2011 and 2010. According to the survey it currently stands at an average of 7.6 days per employee. Absence levels, as usual, are highest in the public services sector (8.7 days per employee per year) and lowest in the manufacturing and production sector (6 days per employee per year).  The survey also found that absence levels tend to increase with organisation size (in all sectors). There could be many reasons for this, it could be that employees feel less visible in a large organisation, or that, relating to the 20:60:20 rule; 20% of employees that need that extra management is just a greater number in large organisations, or these organisations find it more challenging to track and manage absence in a pro-active and positive way. What many organisations may not have caught on to is that providing flexibility is as important as capturing attendance.

One important trend highlighted in the survey is that the number of employers making changes to working patterns to try and reduce long-term absence levels has increased by 20% in the last year. Health initiatives and flexible working are becoming increasingly important if organisations are going to meet the evolving needs of their workforce and reduce the incidence of sickness absence. The survey found that 70% of survey respondents that shared their experiences in the report  said that introducing flexible working opportunities in the past year has had a positive impact on absence levels. However, I believe that if organisations don’t have ways of accommodating employee preferences, capturing employee attendance and productivity and if they do not use a workforce management solution that can support mobile or home working, flexible working can offer a challenge that many organisations will be unable to meet.

If you want to know more about managing absence take a look at the Top 10 Tips to Reduce Absence and if you are considering offering more flexible working practices or are struggling to manage them take a look at this flexible working white paper.

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