Just last week I was blogging about absence and its back in the headlines again! The National Sickness Report recently surveyed 2,000 full-time workers to look at their current health and gauge their attitudes towards sickness. Their published findings show we spend almost a year-and-a-half of our working lives off work as there are on average 252 days in a working year.
One of the things that always strikes me is that although sickness is an unavoidable part of working life, a substantial number of these days are likely to be ‘sickies’ – where an employee calls in sick without actually being sick. The cost of this kind of absence can be huge and can be reduced by organisations if they improve their employee engagement and absence management.
In my experience, once an organisation introduces a clear and equitable absence policy, is able to track and monitor absence accurately and establishes processes like back to work interviews, the cost of unscheduled absence can be reduced by up to 40%. This reduction can equate to a saving of 2-3 days absence per employee per year. It gets even better if flexible working policies can be introduced.
Reducing unscheduled absence has other benefits too. It reduces the stress on colleagues who have to ‘take up the slack’ from their absent co-workers, improving engagement and can reduce the numbers of agency staff brought in to cover absence, which can affect productivity as well as drive up costs.
The report also found that stress and depression are now the most common causes of long-term absence in the workplace and require an average recovery time of 81 days; another reason to think about flexible working and to make sure that absence trends can be monitored. If an individual’s incidence of sickness absence rises unexpectedly, it could be a sign that they are struggling at work or home and a manager can then intervene and try and establish what is going on and take the appropriate action before an employee becomes too ill to work.
Absence will never be totally avoidable, people will genuinely get ill but an organisation who measures and monitors absence and has some flexibility in working patterns will be in a stronger position to sort out the genuinely ill from the employees who take a ‘sickie’ for non-genuine reasons.