Employee absence only makes it into sixth place when businesses were asked to rank their most pressing concerns.
The survey, conducted by insurer Zurich, found financial decision makers in UK businesses listed economic uncertainty as the biggest risk they face.
This was listed by 43 per cent of respondents. This was followed by technological risks (including cyber and data breaches), cited by 39 per cent of respondents.
Other concerns included financial risks, such as increased operating costs and competitor activity – both cited by 33 per cent of respondents. Reputational risk was a concern for 32 per cent of those surveyed.
In contrast just one in four (25 per cent) highlighted employee absence as a risk to their business, despite the fact that this is estimated to cost the economy around £18bn a year in terms of lost productivity.
Zurich pointed out though that this ‘employee risk’ was ranked far more highly among larger employers, with 40 per cent seeing it as a major problem, compared to just 22 per cent of smaller organisations.
When asked about the single biggest impact of employee sickness on their businesses, loss of productivity came out highest for just under a third (32 per cent) of respondents, followed by 23 per cent who said it caused a strain on management time.
A further 17 per cent cited the loss of expertise from their business was their biggest concern.
Just 15 per cent of respondents said they provided group income protection for their employees, but again this varies with the size of the business.
Nearly half (45 per cent) of large businesses offer this benefit compared to 23 per cent of medium-sized companies, and just 8 per cent of small businesses.
Zurich’s head of market management Nick Homer says: “The fact that larger employers rank employee risk more highly would suggest that they’ve experienced at first hand the impact of losing an employee to long term illness or injury. As a result, larger employers are also more likely to have some sort of group income protection provision in place for their employees.
“While the benefits to employees are clear – both replacement income and rehabilitation support – there are clear benefits to employers, including business continuity and retaining critical skills and expertise.”