How to reduce sick leave and absenteeism

How to reduce sick leave and absenteeism

Reducing sick leave

We’re exploring techniques to reduce sickness at work. UK sick leave levels have reached a ten year high which is having a big impact on productivity across UK workplaces. Perhaps it’s effecting your team too?

By combining our HR knowledge with the findings from the new CIPD Health and Wellbeing at Work Report, we’re sharing several ways you can reduce absenteeism and the knock-on effects that sick leave has on your team’s wellbeing and overall performance.

UK sick leave reaches a ten-year high

The highest sick leave figure for the UK in a decade places sickness at work at 7.8 days on average per employee per year, up from 5.8 days in 2019. As an employer you have more control over sickness at work than you think and there are many effective strategies that benefit you and your team.

What are the top reasons for sickness in the workplace?

Here’s what the figures are saying:

Top 3 causes of short-term absence

· Minor illnesses (94%)
· Musculoskeletal injuries (45%)
· Mental ill health (39%)

Top 3 Causes of long-term sickness at work

· Mental ill health (63%)
· Acute medical conditions, such as stroke or cancer (51%)
· Musculoskeletal injuries (51%)

This upsurge in sickness absence is adding pressure for employees. Many of whom are also under strain from hiring challenges and difficulties arising from high employee turnover.

The good news is, by creating an open and supportive culture, you can help lower these numbers and improve the wellbeing of your people.

Minor Illnesses: How to reduce the sickness absence rate 

1. Stop the spread

The pandemic made us realise just how many bugs get spread in the workplace. The risk of flu cases increases by as much as 40% when you spend a day in the office whilst sick*.

2. Tackle sickness stigma

A staggering 79% of people go to work despite being physically or mentally unwell! The biggest reasons for this are:

40% – The fear of falling behind on workload

24% – Feeling under pressure from their boss

22% – Worrying about presenteeism.

Robust HR policies can help with this by creating clear hybrid working policies that include when employees should work from home due to minor illnesses.

Find ways to reassure people that by staying away from the office whilst experiencing contagious symptoms they are helping their team. Provide them with the right equipment to work from home if they are well enough and have a plan for who will pick up their work if they need to take time off.

Ensure that employees who feel unwell don’t force themselves to work through their illness as this can extend recovery time considerably.

3. Cleanliness at work

Don’t forget the effects of regular workplace cleanliness too. Some viruses can live on hard surfaces for up to 72 hours so it’s important to have a regular clean and encourage hygiene by changing shared towels regularly and ventilating small meeting rooms.

4. Financial Impacts

No-one wants to lose out of pay during the cost-of-living crisis; the consequence of this means contagious diseases can spread through the workplace.

If working from home is not an option, look at other ways you can compensate employees for sick days such as increasing the amount of paid sick days which may ultimately be better for the budgets rather than losing whole teams to a wave of sickness.

A study has also shown higher levels of psychological stress when workers don’t have paid sick leave which is food for thought.

5. Mental health 

Watch out for our part 2 stress-related sick leave blog focusing solely on reducing stress-related absenteeism and mental-health related sick leave. It should also be noted that the immune system can be compromised due to poor mental health which can make employees far more susceptible to minor illnesses. 

Physical Ailments: How to reduce sick days

A. Provide Private healthcare Plans

Currently only 25% of companies offer employee health plans for GP appointments, physiotherapy and more. As such more employees are relying on long NHS waiting lists which can vastly increase the sick days needed.

Look at offering voluntary private healthcare plans that staff can opt in to or going further and offering it as a benefit, this can also help attract top talent.

B. Improve H&S

An estimated 185.6 million working days were lost due to sickness or injury in 2022! [Office for National Statistics] with 61,713 injuries reported under RIDDOR [HSE] and 36.8 million working days were lost due to work-related illness and workplace injury.

Despite working rules being in place sadly accidents still happen, small things can make a big difference:

  • Reactive solutions – First aid solutions including for chemical burns etc
  • Preventative solutions – Do regular risk assessments on different areas of the business
  • Internal communications – Find inventive ways to continuously remind people about safety including newsletters, safety areas or translated signage.
  • Social copying – Encourage workplace safety by giving people projects to work within their team, this increases a sense of identity and team spirit through idea generation.
  • Data – Measure accidents based on type and near misses to reduce these.
  • Adequate rest – Tiredness and even lack of sleep outside of week can increase accidents significantly, look at ways to offer breaks and keep an eye on individuals.

C. Offer support for Long-term conditions

In response to long Covid conditions organisations were asked by CIPD how they handled this, some of these are useful for other long-term conditions. The top 5 were:

  • Offering occupational health assessments
  • Phased returns based on individual needs
  • Promoting flexible working
  • Mental Health Support including counselling
  • Review policies to allow more gradual returns (beyond 6 weeks)

Lesser used methods include:

  • Providing line managers with guidance on how to support people – Leadership skills
  • Improving return to work communications
  • Supporting employees to manage their conditions at work
  • Improve access to rehabilitation services (physiotherapy)
  • Offer practical support (for childcare for example)

D. Support employees with their lifestyle

There are many ways you can promote health in the workplace from creating lunchtime walking groups to incentivising a cycle to work scheme. Work benefits such as fresh fruit are another option and along with signposting to external centres on your HR system to support groups.

💙 Receive HR Support

We provide HR support and wellbeing strategies, working with you to tackle challenges including reduce sickness at work whilst improving employee engagement and retention. 

Whether you’re struggling with a problem right now or want to be proactive at finding future solutions to stand out as an employer speak to us today. 

Last Updated on 2 months by Hannah Ingram