Sickness absence is an increasing problem for many employers with both long and short-term absences having a significant effect on performance and productivity within SMEs, which in turn has had a negative financial impact.

The CBI‟s Absence and Workplace Health Survey 2011 reveals minor illnesses/short-term absences remain the most common reason for staff being away from work.  The report found that average levels of absence climb with organisation size – while SMEs average under five days absence per employee, larger employers average over seven days.  However, long-term absences  actually account for nearly a third of working time lost.  The survey found that the most common reasons for long-term absences were stress, anxiety and depression, whilst among manual workers, the most common reasons were musculoskeletal disorders and chronic back pain.  The direct cost of absence across the economy was £18.6 billion in 2010 with each absent employee costing their employer on average £760 through a combination of direct costs in sick pay, lost output and provision cover.

The cost of absence to the economy has prompted the Government to undertake an independent review aimed at reducing the cost of sickness to employers.  The review recognises that a significant number of people can work but not in their current job, therefore there is a need for some form of intervention.

Not only is there a financial cost, high levels of short-term absence and cases of long-term absence can also have a negative effect on employees who have to take on the absent employee‟s work and can cause all round disruption to productivity and continuity of service.

Therefore, given the cost of sickness absence to businesses, it is important that employers are effective in dealing with this issue.  Firstly, employers need to have in place rules on how staff should notify their employers that they will be absent from work.  This should include who staff should contact if they are going to be absent and the time by which they should make contact e.g. one hour before their start time.

Secondly, in order to measure and manage sickness effectively, absences need to be consistently and accurately recorded so analysis can take place in order to identify any issues.

However, not only do employers need to have clearly defined sickness absence policies and procedures in place, they also need to ensure they have the tools to rehabilitate employees who have been absent from work for long periods due to sickness, disability or injury.

The fact that relatively few instances of long-term absence account for a major proportion of working time lost, highlights the importance of managing longterm absences effectively.

So, what is the best way for employers to deal with long-term absences?  Employers should identify someone who is suitably trained to contact the employee who has taken long-term sickness leave in order to make initial enquiries, for example, their Line Manager, an occupational health advisor or Human Resources representative.  From the initial contact, the most practical and constructive way to deal with the absence can be identified.

When an effective rehabilitation programme is not put in place, employees who have been absent from work for long periods of time, or who have recurring short-term absences may feel increasingly alienated from the workplace.  This can lead to longer than necessary absences and/or the risk of litigation. The CBI survey found that the longer employees remain off work, the harder it is for them to be reintegrated into the workplace.  Consequently, early interventions and the use of effective occupational health services are paramount in order to rehabilitate the employee back into the workplace or alternatively, develop an exit strategy.

Health & Well-being Toolkit

The Absence Starter Toolkit provides an effective platform on which to begin, it provides policies and documentation to support companies dealing with the day -to-day process of absence recording.  Building on from this, the Absence Review Toolkit enables businesses to monitor sickness and identify issues.  The Absence Management Toolkit provides the tools to address absence related problems, ultimately leading to reduced costs and increased productivity.

Our Health & Well-being Toolkit offers you the following:

Absence Starter Toolkit

Ideally suited to companies with 5+ employees that have minimal or no absence-recording in place.

Absence Review Toolkit

Ideally suited to companies with 10+ employees who have absence- recording in place but no system for identifying if there are any issues.

Absence Management Toolkit

Suited to companies with 10-500 employees that have recording and monitoring systems in place but would like to build their confidence and expertise in managing absence related issues.

Rehabilitation Toolkit

Where staff have been absent from work for long periods, beststart HR will work with the employer and employee to create a return to work programme.  If it is not appropriate for the employee to return to work, a beststart HR Specialist will support the company in creating an exit strategy.

For assistance in health & wellbeing and managing staff absence contact Anita Wynne at Beststart HR on or Tel: 01438 747 747.