Employee sickness absence rates rose during 2019, according to the latest data from XpertHR.
The company found that around 6.4 days per employee were lost over the year due to sickness, up from 5.6 days in 2018. This translates to a median rate of 2.7 per cent of working time lost in 2019, up from 2.5 per cent the year before.
Despite this increase, overall sickness absence rates remain some way off the high rates recorded in 2006 — when XpertHR first started compiling this data. Then there were eight days a year lost to sickness, or a median of 3.5 per cent. Since 2009 this figure has not been above 3 per cent.
These figures relate to 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent shutdown. XpertHR says its survey has found many employers are now planning changes to their organisations’ sickness absence policies in the wake of the Covid crisis.
Half of those taking part in the latter stages of the survey said this was the case. Changes identified in the survey include:
- paying all staff occupational sick pay when they are absent due to Covid-19 symptoms, irrespective of length of service or contractual obligations;
- offering full pay to those who have to isolate but cannot work from home; and.
- recording sickness absence due to Covid-19 but are not including it for the purpose of assessing any absence triggers or targets.
The survey also found that the cost of sickness absence in 2019 stood at a median of £568, and an average of £544 per employee. As is consistently the case, this is unlikely to be an accurate measurement of the overall cost of sickness absence – more than four in 10 (42 per cent) respondents said they did not know if their absence costs data was accurate or not, and just 16 per cent believe it is very accurate.
One reason for this is the narrow view taken on what to include when assessing the cost of sickness absence. While all respondents include the salaries of individuals on sick leave, few count the cost of overtime, reduced performance, service or missed business opportunities.
XpertHR senior HR practice editor Noelle Murphy says: “While it will take some time for the full impact of Covid-19 on sickness absence rates to become clear, one thing remains striking: how much HR and employers underestimate the total cost of sickness absence.
“With the onslaught of the current stark recession, employers need to keep all costs under control – including sickness absence. But without meaningful and accurate data, employers are in the dark about the true cost and, therefore, any savings that can be made through effective and thoughtful management of sickness absence.”