Stress continues to be main cause of long-term absence

02 May 2017

The CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development, has published their seventeenth annual Absence Management survey results, 2016 being the seventh year that Simplyhealth has sponsored the survey.

The survey analysis is based on replies from 1,091 organisations across the UK in reference to 3.8 million employees and provides useful benchmarking data as well as highlighting key absence management trends that UK employers need to be taking action on.

Key findings include:

  • The average level of employee absence is 6.3 days per employee and has decreased in all sectors and is at its lowest level for seven years.
  • The overall median cost of absence per employee is £522 which has fallen slightly compared with previous years, corresponding with the decrease in absence levels. As in previous years the median cost of absence is considerably higher in the public sector where absence levels are highest - £835 per employee.
  • The main causes of absence are similar to previous years. Minor illness remains the most common cause of short-term absence, followed by stress. Stress, acute medical conditions and mental ill health continue to be the most common causes of long-term absence.

More organisations are recognising the critical role of line managers in managing absence this year and are rating giving line managers primary responsibility for managing absence and giving sickness information to line managers among their most effective approaches.

Stress has once again topped the list of the most common causes of long-term absence, and is the second most common cause of short-term absence after minor illness. Workload, non-work factors and management style are still reported as the top three causes of stress at work. And similar to last year, around two-fifths of survey respondents say reported mental health problems (such as anxiety and depression) have increased among employees in the past year.

Although the findings suggest that many employers are taking action when these issues occur, attention needs to shift to understanding and addressing the root causes. The survey findings suggest that addressing long hours’ cultures and increasing focus on well-being are among the steps required by employers.

It was estimated that the median cost of absence per employee is £522 (although the average cost in the public sector was much higher, at £835 per employee) highlighting the importance of managing sickness absence in the workplace.

The CIPD ran a recent brief survey on managing absence and found that 25% of respondents use the Bradford Factor (BF) and 75% use other methods. Of those who do use BF, several use it only to inform discussions. Those who don't use BF tend to use internal trigger points of a number of days or periods of absence. Of the firms who do use BF, all employed below 2000 employees, with the majority (75%) having fewer than 500 employees. No larger firms (2000+ employees) who responded, representing 22% of the total, used BF as a measure, although all stated that they have their own absence triggers.

The CIPD believe an effective absence management approach is one which is coupled with a focus on health promotion and employee well-being. Proactively supporting well-being can prevent people from going off sick, or help support employees with an issue before it becomes a real problem.

Employee well-being is clearly moving up organisations’ agendas, with almost half of survey respondents saying their organisation’s focus on well-being has increased over the past year. The top reason given by those organisations for increasing their focus on employee well-being was wanting their organisation to be a great place to work, which was cited notably more than other reasons.

Read the full results from the CIPD absence management survey 2016.