HR & Management

The business case for tracking employee sickness absence

3 min read

24 April 2018

Former special projects journalist

Tracking employee sickness absence can help employers spot patterns – and ultimately tackle related issues to improve attendance, and business productivity.

It is often noted that employee absence can have a real effect on a business’ productivity, but for small businesses with so many different issues to juggle, improving staff attendance can easily slip down the priority list.

As an illustration of how effective employee absence can be, take the example of Gatwick airport. Recently, the airport was forced to shut its runway four times due to staff sickness. Only one of three air traffic controllers due in had turned up for work – and naturally, that person needed to take regular breaks, it’s not a job you should be doing half-asleep.

How much this issue affects you will depend on what kind of business you run. If you work in an office environment, it may be possible for remaining employees to pick up the slack a little bit without causing too much disruption – although you should keep in mind that if this is happening too regularly, this may cause dissent among the ranks.

If you work in an environment where it may be dangerous or illegal to operate without enough staff members – think construction sites, heavy machinery, child care businesses, etc. – you could end up losing a whole day or more. This can very quickly make its presence felt on your bottom line, and it can also negatively affect the way your business is perceived by customers if they feel let down.

The latest figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) show that an estimated 137.3 million working days were lost due to sickness or injury in 2016, which is the equivalent of 4.3 days per worker.

Adrian Lewis, director of Activ Absence, said: “Tracking absence is crucial for any organisation to ensure work can be carried out effectively and safely. For Gatwick Airport the impact of only having one air traffic controller had a huge knock on effect for hundreds of passengers who faced delays, not to mention damage to the reputation of the airport…

“Using absence management software, employers can record sickness absence and keep on top of it – spotting key trends, such as people regularly taking a Friday or a Monday off, which can suggest underlying health issues such as stress. Once an organisation has a record of sickness absence and the reasons behind it they can offer support and address the issues their employees may be facing.”

The main causes of absence according to the ONS in 2016 included minor illnesses (accounting for around 34 million lost days); musculoskeletal problems (30.8 million lost days); and mental health issues (15.8 million days).