In 2017 absence rates dropped to the lowest on record – ONS records show that the average employee took just over four days absence in 2017, a substantial drop. What’s behind this, should you stop sick employees coming to work and if you’re absence rates are higher than the new average, how can you reduce absence?
Office for National Statistics records for 2017 show a drop in absence rates to just 1.6%, equating to 4.1 days per employee in 2017. Traditionally rates have hovered around the 2 – 2.5% mark, and while it’s impossible to say what’s driving this many commentators believe that the downward trend may be due to job uncertainty, possibly because of Brexit.
Of course the obvious answer may be that in 2017 employees were less ill than in previous years, but the reality is we know that some employees, by no means all but some, will take time off when they don’t really need to. If we accept that as a fact then what the statistics must reveal is that, assuming sickness levels are more or less constant, employees are less inclined to take a ‘sicky’, perhaps for fear of job security. There is however another possibility in that genuinely sick employees are struggling into work rather than taking time off, perhaps because of the same job security uncertainties.
This is latter theory is known as ‘presenteeism’ and can cause problems, obviously for the health of the employee who’d be better off recovering, but also for other employees and productivity generally. A sick employee might contaminate others, and is unlikely to perform at their best, leading to the possibility of errors and even safety concerns.
A wise employer will keep an eye on their staff and be prepared to address situations where an obviously sick employee turns up to work. Where the lack of sick pay is a reason for the employee’s perseverance, it is open to the employer to discretionarily grant sick pay. While it’s true that most smaller employers provide SSP only, an alternative option is to provide on a discretionary basis up to 5 days normal pay as sick pay – enough to cover the average employee’s sickness in a year. If this is to be introduced a change to employment contracts will normally be required, but’s unlikely anyone will object!
But what should an employer do if their short term (by which I mean a day or two here and there) sickness absence levels are higher than the national average? Many employers shy away from ‘managing’ absence, but actually it is very controllable and is a basic management discipline. Step 1 might be to contact myHRdept to discuss a particular employee’s case, but step 2 will be always the same – make the employee aware of the problem.
Early in my career I was appointed as HR Manager for a biscuit factory with a thousand employees and a sickness rate of 11%, perhaps due to the very generous company sick pay on offer. I implemented a simple system which involved a review with any employee who triggered more than 3 absences or 10 days in a year. If we had reasons to suspect that the employee wasn’t really trying as hard as they might to attend (as opposed to having an underlying medical condition), an option was to withdraw company sick pay and take disciplinary action. Absence dropped to around 3% pretty quickly, saving the business hundreds of thousands of pounds, increasing labour stability and decreasing the reliance on temps.
These days at HR outsourcing business myHRdept we help our SME clients to manage absence and provide simple cost effective systems to accurately record it in the first place, something a lot of smaller businesses don’t do.
Bill Larke is MD of myHRdept, an outsourced HR supplier to SME businesses across the UK.
Our BQ Bulletin emails will land in your inbox at 7.30am, Monday to Friday, with a mix of the latest local business news, national news, and features to inspire you. Sign up here!
Click here to read our privacy statement