With the clocks rolling back and the days shortening, the UK workforce confronts a seasonal challenge: an uptick in employee absences.
Recent studies in the UK have highlighted a consistent pattern in employee absences as we transition into winter. Statistics from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) indicate a notable rise in short-term sickness absence during this period, with colds, flu, and other respiratory illnesses peaking as the temperature drops. This data supports the heightened need for robust absence management strategies.
The season also introduces a psychological component—the condition often referred to as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which can lead to increased instances of absenteeism. SAD affects numerous individuals across the UK and can significantly impact motivation and productivity levels. According to an NHS report, approximately 1 in 15 individuals in the UK experience SAD between the months of September and April.
Statistics below from the UK Government, show the trends in workplace sickness and injury:
- The sickness absence rate – the percentage of working hours lost because of sickness or injury rose to 2.6% in 2022, an increase of 0.4 percentage points from 2021 and the highest it has been since 2004, when it was 2.7%.
- An estimated 185.6 million working days were lost because of sickness or injury in 2022; this level was a record high, but the number of days lost per worker, at 5.7, was not.
- The most common reason for sickness absence was minor illnesses, accounting for 29.3% of occurrences.
- All age groups experienced increases in their sickness absence rate in 2022.
- Groups with the highest rates of sickness absence in 2022 included women, older workers, those with long-term health conditions, people working part-time, and people working in care, leisure, or other service occupations.
Strategies for Managing Absences
This month’s blog looks at some actionable strategies to mitigate the impact of seasonal absences while maintaining employee well-being and organisational productivity.
Promote Well-being and Preventative Health Measures
Employers can support their staff by promoting flu vaccinations, providing information on maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and ensuring workspaces are hygienic and conducive to good health.
Flexible Working Options
If feasible, offer flexible working arrangements. Adjusted hours or the opportunity to work from home can help those struggling with SAD or reduce the likelihood of germs spreading.
Ensure employees understand the process for reporting absences and whom they should notify. It’s also essential to communicate any support available to them, be it health advice or mental health resources.
Monitoring and Data Analysis
Implement a system to monitor absence patterns. Data analysis can reveal trends and enable you to implement targeted interventions, possibly preventing a few absences before they happen.
Supportive Return-to-Work Process
Develop a robust return-to-work process. When employees return from sickness absence, a structured process can help address any ongoing issues and reintegrate them into the workforce effectively.
Educate on SAD and Mental Health Support
As mental well-being is paramount, provide information and support for those who may be affected by SAD. This could include access to counselling services or adjustments to lighting in the workplace.
Invest in Training
Managers should be trained to handle absences sensitively but effectively, ensuring that support is given to those who are absent while minimising disruption.
Considerations for Managing Workplace Absence
Encouraging good health practices before the onset of winter can reduce the number of absences due to common illnesses. Simultaneously, being adaptable allows for a swift and compassionate response to unexpected absences, whether due to physical or mental health concerns.
Employers must also navigate the terrain of employee absences with a clear understanding of legal frameworks. The Employment Rights Act 1996 and subsequent amendments outline employee rights regarding sickness absence. Moreover, mental health is increasingly recognised in legal contexts, and employers have a duty of care to ensure the workplace does not contribute to ill health.
Beyond financial implications, there is also an undeniable effect on team morale and workload distribution.
As the UK heads into winter, employers must be proactive in managing workplace absences and the strategies highlighted can serve as a guide for taking a strategic approach.
Phil Collier Associates: Your Strategic Partner
At Phil Collier Associates, we understand the multifaceted challenges of managing absences. Our expertise lies in crafting bespoke strategies that align with your organisational culture and legal obligations. We offer comprehensive guidance, from policy development to training, ensuring that your approach to absence management is as robust as it is empathetic.