Dealing with staff absenteeism

As the winter months draw in, staff 'sickies' begin to rise. Occupational health specialist Maggie Snook explains how to deal with the problem.

Rates in staff absenteeism soar in winter, but what can be done to curb employees’ temptation for a day tucked up under the duvet? Maggie Snook, clinical manager of The Robens Centre for Occupational Health offers advice to small businesses.

With the Health and Safety Commission’s annual report showing thirty three million working days were lost due to ill health last year, absenteeism has become yet another worry for employers trying to run a professional, profit-making business. Many employers struggle to control the ever-increasing problem of staff absenteeism, with sickness massively disrupting productivity, not to mention the underlying costs of managing the situation.

A recent survey carried out by the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) showed that the average level of sickness absence is 9.1 working days per working year. This is estimated to cost employers £588 per employee, per year.

Monitoring the causes of staff absence is a process implemented by employers as a way of trying to get to the root of the absenteeism problem. However, although 80 per cent of employers collect information on the cause of staff absence, only 46 per cent monitor the actual cost. Employers are half way there by monitoring the causes, but let themselves down when it comes to the purse strings; small businesses need to be monitoring the effects as well as the causes.

Illnesses such as colds and flu are clearly the most frequently mentioned reason for absence, with 95 per cent of employees citing this as a cause of their sick leave. The stress epidemic is the second most common reason for the increase in ill health. Stress was responsible for 13.4 million sick days off last year, which is over 40 per cent of the total, followed by common complaints of back pain, musculo-skeletal injuries and recurring medical conditions.

A real ‘sticking point’ for employers facing absenteeism is making the decision as to whether the absence of their employees is genuine or not. Almost a third of employers believe that more than 20 per cent of their staff absence is not genuine with 93 per cent believing that sick notes are issued to easily by GPs. Research also shows that confidence in genuine absence is greater among organisations with fewer than 100 staff.

Absence rates in general, increase with the size of the organisation, so it is important as a company grows that they start assessing their staffing plans. Heading into the autumn and winter, people are susceptible to flu if they are not immunised and the condition itself can be serious requiring many days, if not weeks, off work. So what can be done to help reduce sickness at work?

At the Robens Centre for Occupational Health, we urge companies to be more vigilant against sickness as the colder months approach. With flu vaccinations being prepared for early October, employers should be looking to take appropriate steps now to ensure their company doesn’t fall victim to costly staff shortages.

Prompt action from businesses is required to consider, not only the well being of their staff, but also the financial effects sick leave has on the company. Employers can only stand to benefit from a company-wide health audit offered by clinics such as ours.

The Robens Centre offers bespoke immunisation programmes, health advice and open days and vaccinations for staff travelling overseas.

To find out more about The Robens Centre’s immunisation programmes, please contact 01483 686690 or visit


(will not be published)