Sickness absence costs the UK economy an estimated £12 billion each year. How many of your staff are off work this morning? Sore throats, bad backs, poorly parents? Short of finding a vaccine for the common cold there’s very little you can do to prevent your staff from getting sick. There is, however, increasing evidence that the culture in which we work has a bearing on absence levels. The impact While the majority of absentee cases will be genuine and your unfortunate employee is tucked up in bed with a fever, it’s worth bearing in mind that the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) who carried out this research, also found that the average annual level for each employee’s sick leave is 8.7 days. This costs £487.10 per employee. It is an absence unlikely to make the heart grow fonder. Although there are certain industries in which absenteeism is a greater problem than others, Diane Sinclair, adviser on employee relations at the CIPD points out individual companies are more likely to have an impact on employee absence. “You have to look at the way the organisation is run. Look at your individual departments: is there a line manager with bullying characteristics? Are the working hours too long?” Working with absenteeism Anthony Thompson is a policy adviser for the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) who conducts an annual survey on workplace absenteeism. “Employers have told us that they know most absence is down to sickness and is therefore genuine. It’s also a common fact that some companies tackle the issue more proficiently than others. It depends on the whole company’s determination to tackle it, as it shouldn’t just be the line manager’s job to support employees,” he says. Alexi Marmot, of workplace consultancy AMA, suggests that women are more likely to be absent than men: “Sometimes it may be the only way to attend a child’s concert or take them to the doctor’s. They’re also more in tune with their biology and don’t struggle on half-cocked in a manful way.”

When it comes to drawing up a policy for tackling absence, there are a number of things you need to take into consideration. In many ways, the policy is going to be ineffective if you don’t have any record of the hows and whys of absence in your company. “A quarter of those who responded to our survey, therefore those who are interested in the subject of absence said that they didn’t monitor the causes of absence, and had no indication of how much of a problem it is,” says Thompson.