February 11, 2007 8:39 am Published by

Staff are the essential ingredient for most businesses. So staff absence is one of the issues most often complained about by managers. Whether petty absence, which can be hard to cover, or the uncertainties of long-term absence, there is no easy solution. And the cost in output is huge. Absent staff are costing employers in Britain £20.9 billion each year, according to new research from Peninsula, for a suggested 480 million days taken off.

There seems to have been a startling increase. The research shows that the average number of sick days taken by workers has risen from 8 days in 2002 to 16 days in 2007. At this rate, within 20 years it will be a surprise if anyone turns up for work at all! One encouragement for smaller organisations is that their employees take fewer days off than those in larger businesses, perhaps because they are more aware of the impact of their absence, or perhaps simply because they are less likely to be entitled to sick pay.

Of course a lot of sickness absence is genuine, and can’t be helped. Some is not and it can be infuriating for other staff and management to struggle to cope whilst believing that their colleague is enjoying a day of stolen holiday; especially if there is contractual sick pay and the malingerer is being paid as much as those struggling to cover for them.

Of the 480 million days off, fraudulent sick days are estimated to be 81.6 million days, which equates to 17 per cent of all sick days taken and costs employers £3.5 billion.

If the level of absence in your business is a problem, what can you do? Here are a few ideas. Discuss your strategy with a specialist lawyer. Have stringent rules about absent employees speaking to a manager personally early on the day of absence. Adopt a detailed return to work form to be filled in by all employees after every sickness absence. Keep a record of absence and monitor it regularly. If it shows up an undue level, speak to the employee and show detailed interest in why they keep having time off. Ensure that they are not doing it to escape from undue pressure of some sort at work. Ensure that, if they have genuine problems at home, employees can tell you rather than lie about their health. Review your paperwork and tie unauthorised absence into your disciplinary procedures, so they have been warned. Watch out for disability as discrimination is dangerous. You may wish to reconsider what contractual sick pay you give, but if you are thinking of changing existing rights take expert advice first.

It’s all enough to make you feel rather unwell, so maybe you need a quiet duvet day yourself……

Frances Barker is an employment specialist at Blocks Employment Service.

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