Sickness Levels Fall Yet SMEs Fail to Tackle Absenteeism

Businesses which tackle the sick-note culture head on by training managers are proving that the investment pays for itself through falling absenteeism – but SMEs are still failing follow suit.

Two thirds of businesses which set tough targets and managed absenteeism are now able to reduce their overall sick leave, compared with half in 2007 (See the EEF/Westfield Health report Sickness Absence and Rehabilitation Survey 2011)

As a result, overall sick leave has fallen from 6.7 days – on average – per person per year in 2007, to just 5 days today.

But experts believe these benefits are only being enjoyed by large companies, with as many as two thirds (66%) of SMEs still failing to recognise or tackle poor sickness absence rates (CIPD Annual survey report 2010 – Absence Management (PDF))

More than a quarter (30%) of SMEs leave absence management to line managers not trained in absence handling as an additional task alongside their main job – enabling staff to ‘pull sickies’ whenever and as frequently as they want.

Peter Mooney, head of employment law at ELAS, said:

“We have always advised clients that there are laws there to help them tackle absenteeism if only they knew how to use them.”

“Too many businesses think the law is on the employee’s side, and that if they take staff to task, they’ll automatically end up in an employment tribunal – that’s not the case.”

“Providing you’ve got evidence to back up any allegations, and that you follow correct procedures to make any disciplinary action fair, then businesses can tackle absenteeism and, in some cases, cut sickness levels considerably.”

To make the process of absence management easier, Salford-based ELAS developed a suite of intelligent software called Employersafe which helps businesses record the evidence needed to discipline staff over absence – among other things – then guides bosses through how to act without overstepping the law.

Recently, the company also launched an absence management service which takes management of sickness absence out of employers’ hands entirely in order to reduce sick leave even further.

By forcing staff to report their sickness to a specialist absence manager – rather than their usual line manager – even those firms with tough targets can see sick leave fall further.

Mr Mooney added:

“We find businesses which are almost paralysed by their fear of dealing with sick leave.”

“Not only do they allow staff to text in sick – which practically encourages rogue staff to throw a sickie – but they fail to deal with even the most outrageous excuses for being off work, from feeling ill after a stag do in Amsterdam to having had a fake tan go badly wrong.”

“It’s these excuses – and the brass neck of staff prepared to use them – which are behind the fact that absenteeism costs the UK £32bn a year, not excessive red tape or genuine illness.”

For further business advice on the subject see our articles: Employers Handbook for Statutory Sick Pay and Motivating Employees.

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