Sickness absence rates edge higher


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The UK’s median absence rate has risen slightly meaning that the typical employee now takes 6.4 days off sick each year.

XpertHR’s 14th annual survey into sickness absence rates and costs found that the median rate of sickness absence in 2019 was 2.7% of working time, up from 2.5% in 2018. This translates to 6.4 days’ absence per employee (up from 5.6 days the previous year).

The research found that public sector workers continue to take more time off – a median of 7.5 days per year – than their counterparts in private sector services who took 6.4 days. Manufacturing and production employees took 5.7 days off sick.

Larger organisations were likely see higher absences rate among their workforce than smaller ones. Employers with more than 1000 employees had a median sickness absence rate of 8.0 days, compared with 5.7 days for organisation with 100-249 staff and just 3.8 days’ absence for 1-99 employees.

The authors said the cost of sickness absence in 2019 stood at a median of £568 per employee. However, this is unlikely to be an accurate measurement of the overall cost of sickness absence – 42% of employers said they did not know if their absence cost data was accurate or not, and only 16% believe it is very accurate. While respondents included the salaries of individuals on sick leave, few counted the cost of overtime, reduced performance, service or missed business opportunities.

XpertHR senior HR practice editor Noelle Murphy said: “While it will take some time for the full impact of Covid-19 on sickness absence rates to become clear, one thing remains striking: how much HR and employers underestimate the total cost of sickness absence.

“With the onslaught of the current stark recession, employers need to keep all costs under control –  including sickness absence. But without meaningful and accurate data, employers are in the dark about the true cost and, therefore, any savings that can be made through effective and thoughtful management of sickness absence.”

The survey also found that many employers are now planning changes to their sickness absence policies in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. XpertHR’s field work took place initially in March 2020 but was paused because of Covid-19 disruption, before recommencing in June.

Half of those taking part in the latter stages of the survey said they were making changes, including:

  • paying all staff occupational sick pay when they are absent due to Covid-19 symptoms, irrespective of length of service or contractual obligations;
  • offering full pay to those who have to isolate but cannot work from home; and
  • recording sickness absence due to Covid-19 but are not including it for the purpose of assessing any absence triggers or targets.

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