Gatwick Airport[i] was recently forced to shut its runway four times because of staff sickness. Only one air traffic controller out of three scheduled to be working was in the control tower and the airport needed to schedule mandatory breaks – the situation caused passenger delay and frustration.
In Leicester, the City Council[ii] recently published its absence figures which showed the average full-time employee took 12.75 days off in sickness leave in 2016/17 – totalling over 69,000 working days lost to sickness in one year. The council said that 10% of employees accounted for 70% of absence and it was taking steps to tackle sickness levels.
These stories highlight the negative and costly impact sickness absence can have on an organisation, but there are solutions.
Tracking absence is crucial for any organisation to ensure work can be carried out effectively and safely. For Gatwick Airport the impact of only having one air traffic controller had a huge knock on effect for hundreds of passengers who faced delays, not to mention damage to the reputation of the airport.
In Leicester the high number of days lost to sickness would almost certainly have impacted other colleagues in the office who would have had to take on additional work. There are also huge cost implications. The Centre of Economic and Business Research reported last year that workplace absence is costing the UK £18bn in lost productivity, so it makes commercial sense for companies to tackle absence head on.
Using absence management software, employers can record sickness absence and keep on top of it – spotting key trends, such as people regularly taking a Friday or a Monday off, which can suggest underlying health issues such as stress. Once an organisation has a record of sickness absence and the reasons behind it they can offer support and address the issues their employees may be facing.
A recent survey by Group Risk Development (Grid), found that more than one-fifth (22%) of employer respondents believe that their employee absence rates are higher than other organisations because they do not have health and wellbeing initiatives in place.
The survey also found that 20% of respondents feel their employee absence rates are higher because of poor work-life balance, compared to 24% who cite ineffective absence management processes as the reason for higher employee absence rates.
This research highlights that wellbeing initiatives can help reduce absence rates, however, without the right systems in place to get to the root causes of absence then introducing these may be futile. Investing in absence management software can help flag up ongoing health issues, so that companies can tailor their support.
It also allows for greater transparency, better resourcing and helps businesses plan more effectively, plus it can act as a deterrent to pulling a sickie as people know that it will recorded and followed up with a back to work interview. Not only will sickness absence be reduced but so will the associated costs and productivity will be improved.