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Employers focus on flexible working to manage absence rates

Research from GRiD shows that employers are trying to introduce flexible working initiatives to manage absence rates, but that the general improvement on rates is 15 percentage points down on last year.

On Blue Monday, employers will be bracing themselves for the possibility of increased absences as staff struggle with low morale and motivation following the Christmas break.

While a quarter (25%) of UK employers have seen their absence rates improve over the last 12 months, according to new research from Group Risk Development (GRiD), the trade body for the group risk industry, one in 10 have seen their rates worsen over the same time period.

Added  to that, the improvement is 15 percentage points less than last year (when 40% of businesses said their absence rates had improved) and 54% of employers say their absence rates have remained the same, indicating a general slow-down or even complacency when it comes to managing employee absence.

57% of businesses said absence cost them up to 4% of payroll, but employers are using a range of initiatives to address this, and to improve general attendance. This includes introducing flexible working initiatives (36%), a 4 percentage points increase on last year, allowing employees to work around schedules which suit them. Return-to-work interviews are also favoured by 28%, while 17% use disciplinary procedures for unacceptable absence.

It is estimated that long-term sickness absence costs private sector businesses in the UK a total of £4.17 billion a year, and is set to reach £4.81 billion a year by 2030. This makes it all the more important that employers work with staff to manage their return to work, maintain morale and invest in their wellbeing.

For those businesses which have seen absence rates improve, the main reasons for this are given as good morale (62%) and robust absence management strategies in place (34%). 30% have introduced health and wellness initiatives to support staff across the board.

However, 45% did admit that they thought the improvement in absence rates was simply down to fear of redundancy or anxiety about jobs, while 30% thought it was due to presenteeism, with employees not well enough to come in doing so anyway – something which could risk longer-term absence if not addressed. Those who have experienced an increase in absence rates put it down to low morale (69%), staff shortages (42%), and bogus absences (40%).

Katharine Moxham, spokesperson for Group Risk Development, said: “It’s important that strategies to manage absence are kept up, and that rates aren’t allowed to increase as it really will have a significant impact on business costs in the long-run. That said, it can’t be denied that a quarter have seen rates improve – whether or not this is down on last year – and employers are actively introducing initiatives that focus on the the health and wellness of their staff. Flexible working can help to retain talented staff, allowing them to balance home commitments as well as focus on work.

“To avoid any surprise costs, and protect against future absences, it’s vital these initiatives are kept up and that they remain a priority. It may seem like a lot to consider in the short-term, but investing in staff in this way will make a huge difference to the bottom line.”