How employers can address increased levels of sick leave

Thring lawyers sick leave for business

The number of workers taking sick leave has reached its highest level for more than a decade according to new research.

A report by the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD) and Simplyhealth has found that on average 7.8 days of sick leave were being taken a year – a rise of more than a quarter since the pandemic.

What is causing this

According to the CIPD, minor illnesses, musculoskeletal injuries and mental ill health are the three predominant causes of short-term absence. Alongside stress, these are also the main causes for long-term absence of four weeks or more.

Covid continues to also remain a main cause for absence, but the number of times it is reported in the top three causes has reduced from 67% last year to 37% this year.

That being said, each case of absence is likely to have its differences and both line managers and HR teams should be aware of changes in behaviour.

Working when unwell

Alongside the increase in sick days, the report has also shown widespread levels of employees working whilst unwell, also known as ‘presenteeism’, which sits at around 76% for office-based workers and 78% for those who work from home. It also saw high levels (63%) of workers using allocated time off, such as annual leave, to complete work outside of contracted hours, otherwise known as ‘leaveism’.

Both cases have been shown to have negative impacts on employee stress and morale and can, in turn, have a knock-on effect to organisational culture. Despite this, less than half of organisations responding to the survey said they were taking steps to address presenteeism (41%) or leaveism (35%).

What can employers do to help?

Employers need to take a fair approach to dealing with each case of absence, relying on robust policies to support their actions. The CIPD’s primary recommendation in the report was for organisations to review their absence management policies and framework to “ensure they are flexible enough to support employees with chronic health conditions or disabilities”.

As the research shows, there is a fine balance in taking steps to manage absence and promote attendance, which may call for a mixture of actions to deter absence and also support it when necessary.

For the former, employers can consider the likes of return-to-work interviews and trigger mechanisms to review attendance, as well as disciplinary and/or capability procedures for unacceptable absence. For the latter, offering leave for family circumstances, changes to working patterns or environment, EAPs and occupational health services can provide support for staff in cases of both short and long-term absence.

Importantly, line managers need to have received appropriate training to handling absence, the aim of which is to ensure they are “confident to keep in touch with team members in a sensitive and supportive manner”, a key finding and recommendation of the report.

In efforts to deter presenteeism or leaveism, organisations should bring together senior leaders and managers to understand the associated risk factors and causes of this in particular functions and teams and should consider strategies such as providing guidance for managers to spot the warning

signs, positively encouraging the use of annual leave for true rest and relaxation (rather than checking emails) and creating a culture based on outputs instead of inputs.

Thrings’ Employment lawyers are experienced in dealing with business matters that affect the workforce, including managing absence and long-term sickness, and has acted for both employers and employees from start-ups and SMEs all the way to multinational corporations across a wide range of employment matters. To find out how they can help strengthen your polices, and solve your disputes, please get in contact.

Thrings employment lawyers

Related Articles