Employee absence management will be a priority for only 15 per cent of human resources (HR) professionals over the coming year, according to research.

This is despite nearly half (49 per cent) of HR leaders admitting that effectively managing absence is a problem for their organisations, a survey by Imperial College Business School for PMI Health Group found.

Mike Blake, director at PMI Health Group, said absence management should be a "key driver" of any healthcare programme.

He pointed out that employees taking time off because of illness leads to expenses such as sick pay and possibly replacement staffing costs, as well as affecting customer satisfaction and workforce morale.

"This cost can be calculated, however, if robust processes for measuring absence are in place," added Mr Blake.

Other findings of the research suggested that demonstrating return on investment is the primary aim for HR professionals over the coming year, with over a third (35 per cent) of respondents citing this as their top priority.

Thirty per cent of staffing directors and managers said the need to implement new systems such as IT and flexible benefits will be their main concern over the next year, while 28 per cent were aiming to reduce employee healthcare support costs.

Mr Blake commented: "Business confidence may be returning but HR professionals remain under pressure to demonstrate the value of the HR function."

He also noted that employee healthcare programmes are often regarded by business leaders as a nice addition to an organisation rather than a "strategic imperative", but having them in place can create a healthy workforce, thereby contributing to the bottom line.

A report released by the Confederation of British Industry and pharmaceutical company Pfizer in July this year stated that employee absence costs the UK economy £14 billion a year.