The average annual amount of time an employee spends off work due to sickness has fallen by 13% in the last year to 6.6 days, according to the CIPD’s annual absence survey.
Data from the last five years suggests a fluctuating downward trend in absence levels, with a high in 2011, when an employee would take an average of 7.7 days off sick each year, and a low in 2014, a whole day off the previous year’s figure. This trend is reflected across all sectors of the economy, according to the survey, except manufacturing, which has seen little change over the last five years.
However, stress and mental health problems in the workplace remain high, with over 40% of employers citing an increase over the course of the year, despite signs of economic recovery. Just one in ten reported that stress-related absence has decreased.
Of the 518 organisations employing 1.4m people that responded, the public sector and larger organisations were most likely to report increased stress-related absence. Workload is ranked the most common cause, followed by non-work relationships/family, management style and relationships at work.
The number of organisations reporting an increase in presenteeism – people who come into work when they are unwell – has remained largely static since 2011. Each year, a third of polled businesses have said their rates of presenteeism have increased in the past year. The practice is associated with anxiety, particularly when job security is threatened and there are high levels of workload and stress.
“On the face of it these figures look positive as overall absence levels have dropped by a day,” said Dr Jill Miller, CIPD’s research adviser. “Yet it’s clear there are underlying deeper issues, with many employers telling us employees are still struggling into work while sick, while others are struggling to manage work with home responsibilities.“
CIPD says respondents report some positive trends that could have contributed to the fall in absence levels, including an increased focus on attendance strategies. There was also a rise in the number of organisations developing line manager capability for managing absence, from 39% in 2013 to 61% in 2014.
Minor illness like headaches and colds remain the most common reported cause of short-term absence. MSDs, back pain and stress are also common, with around 13% of respondents reporting they were the most common reason for short-term absences. MSDs and back pain are more common for manual workers, while stress is more common for non-manual workers.
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