The Impact of Absence on a Small Business and What You Can Do About It

The Impact of Absence on a Small Business and What You Can Do About It

  • Date: Monday 23rd July 2018
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Recent research has found that feigned illness is costing the UK economy a staggering £900 million.  Estimates for 2016 show that a total of 137 million working days were lost due to sickness or injury in the UK. Of these, the study found that the number of working days lost due to employees throwing a ‘sickie’ amounted to 7.5 million days. 

Small businesses especially are hugely affected by absence and often do not have the capacity to cover for absenteeism. Just one person off sick can be incredibly disruptive to the day-to-day running of the business and can have an enormous impact on productivity, if for instance, orders cannot be fulfilled due to a lack of staff. Whilst genuine illness cannot be helped, there are actions that can be taken to address preventable absences.

Most common reasons for absence?

Minor illnesses, such as coughs and colds are the most common reasons, followed by musculoskeletal problems.  Mental health issues, such as stress, depression and anxiety are the next most common reasons for sickness absence.

Feigned illness

Research shows that for employees who feigned illness 42% did so to have a day’s rest, 21% blamed hangovers and 19% took time off to avoid a stressful situation at work.

Measures to help small businesses

1. Effective monitoring of absenteeism 

Monitoring absence levels is critical to gain an insight into episodes of absence and will enable a manager to spot patterns. With effective monitoring, a regular ‘Mondays off’ incidence of absenteeism can be nipped in the bud. 

If absence reason trends are identified, measures can be put in place to address them. For example, a trend for musculoskeletal problems in the office may indicate a need to review workstation ergonomics.

Effective monitoring enables early intervention and regular reviews will help to bring absence rates down.  Consider reviewing absence data once a month for the whole workforce, noting the reasons for absence, trends and the number of occasions in the last rolling 12 months.

2. Develop a clear sickness policy

One of the key steps to manage sickness absence is to have clear policies and processes in place.  Managers and staff should know what is required when it comes to sickness or unplanned leave. Ensure employees know who they have to report absences to, the requirement for sick notes and how frequent short-term absence will be dealt with.

Your sickness policy should be provided to all employees, either as part of the staff handbook or as a standalone policy and should be included in the induction process. A return to work process is a useful way to identify the true basis of any absences and will enable you to address any work-related causes, such as stress due to workload.

If you do not currently have an attendance management policy and believe one will be of benefit, please speak to your SSG HR consultant. 

3. Offer flexible working

By 2020, more than half of the entire workforce population will be made up of millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996) and Generation Z (those born between the mid-1990s and mid-2000s). According to a recent report, three-quarters of UK employees favour flexible working, with millennials the most likely of all age groups to pick a job for its flexibility.

A flexible schedule helps employees to manage a better work-life balance and this can have a significant and positive impact on absenteeism.

4.  Encourage staff to switch off

The digital age is upon us, which means we are connected 24/7.  Small business owners often create a culture where employees are expected to be constantly available, and even contact them while they are on annual leave. This can lead to a situation where employees feel forced to take sick days to get a rest. Even then, research reports indicate that over half of survey respondents admitted to dealing with work emails whilst off sick.

Small businesses need to develop HR policies and due processes to prevent the blurring of lines over work and time off. It is essential staff do not feel the need to take sick days off to rest.

5.  Introduce a well-being at work policy

Establishing a workplace that supports well-being is good for employees, employers and business success. Promoting well-being at work can help to prevent problems from escalating, increase employee engagement and improve productivity.


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