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Is sickness absence costing your business?

131 million days: according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) this was the number of days of work lost to UK businesses due to sickness in 2013. Sound costly? It was. In the same year, research from PwC showed that the annual cost of sickness absence to UK business was £29 billion, with UK employees taking an average of 9.1 days sick leave per year. Interesting the ONS did find some variation in the amount of sickness taken by employees working in different occupations. Those employed in caring, leisure & other services were off sick for an average of 3.2% of working hours in the year; in comparison, managers and senior officials took the least amount of time off sick at only 1.3%. What are the main causes of absence? According to the ONS report: Sickness Absence in the Labour Market, February 2014, a third (30%) of employees were off work due to minor illnesses such as colds and flu, the most common reason given for sickness absence. That said, more days were lost due to back, neck and muscle pain than any other cause, equating to 30.6 million days of sick leave - mental health problems such as stress, depression and anxiety were also a major contributor to overall sickness figures that year, adding up to 15.2 million days. How are businesses managing sickness absence? The worrying truth is that whilst many businesses try their best to manage sick leave in the short term, many fail to measure its impact on productivity, or put measures in place to help reduce sickness absence. This was underlined by a survey conducted in 2015 by the manufacturers’ organisation, the EEF, to assess their member’s experience of sickness absence. It found that less than a fifth (18%) of the 345 manufacturing companies that responded to the survey measured the economic cost of sickness absence to their business. This was despite the fact that the average sick pay cost to them per employee came to £374; a total cost of £1 billion for the manufacturing sector. On a positive note, there is no need for businesses to resign themselves to spiralling sickness costs. By taking a professional approach to absence management, employers can go a long way towards minimising the impact of sick leave on their business. Below are three ways you can help to achieve this:

  • Adopt professional procedures

Start by putting effective processes in place for the whole sickness ‘journey’ so staff are aware of how they should report sickness absence, what sort of sick notes and fit notes they need to submit and when they can expect to have return to work meetings. You should also measure the impact of absence using formulas such as the Bradford Factor and set a trigger point for the amount of sick leave an employee can take before you start a formal review process.

  • Manage those procedures properly

If you are a busy HR manager or business owner, handling sickness absence will be just one of many jobs you have to do. As a result, if you do not have an efficient HR software solution to underpin sickness management, you will struggle to keep on top of it. The right absence management software will allow you to record and track all types of absence. It can also help you set alerts for when specific absence situations need to be reviewed and create reports to help you assess the impact of absence on your business.

  • Help your employees return to work

One very interesting fact that the EEF survey flagged up was that one-third (33%) of respondent companies rely exclusively on the NHS to manage long-term employee sickness absence arising from medical investigations, tests and recovery from surgery. This was despite the fact that they also said that two of the top causes for their staff being off sick long-term were NHS waiting lists and recovering from treatments. This begs the question as to why more firms don’t consider offering private medical insurance to employees where this can significantly reduce waiting times and provide ready money for prompt after-care. Making it happen By adopting a professional approach to sick leave, you can do a lot to achieve healthier sickness outcomes, enhancing staff wellbeing and business productivity at the same time. If you are unsure of which procedures to put in place there are a host of HR consultants who can help you do this. Equally, you can search out the best absence management software for your needs by requesting demonstrations and trials of different systems. Some of these companies will even offer free demonstrations to help you assess their system without commitment. Finally, don’t forget to talk to a reliable insurance broker for advice on the right private medical insurance for the staff in your company. Article written by Sharon Evans, Marketing Manager at HR software company, myhrtoolkit Ltd

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