The national average absence rate stands at 3.2% of working time in 2016, which compares with a rate of 2.8% of working time in 2015.

Expressing this in days lost to absence, the average sickness absence increased by more than one day per employee, up to 7.4 days in 2016 from 6.3 in 2015. This is the single largest increase recorded in absence levels since 2006.

The national survey shows that absence rates have risen slightly compared with last year’s results. This follows a period of relative stability after a drop in rates coincided with the beginning of the recession in 2008. An aging workforce, a period of economic calm in early 2016, and a greater focus on people analytics – leading to more accurate data – may all be reasons for this increase.

According to the survey, the national average stood at 3.2% of working time, equivalent to 7.4 days per employee. The median rate of absence stood at 2.9% of working time, translating to 6.6 days per employee.

These figures represent an increase when compared with 2014 and 2015, with the average absence rate for both years standing at 2.8%. It is too early to say if this year’s findings are the sign of an upward turn in sickness absence levels, or an isolated increase.

In 2006, the average percentage of working time lost to absence was 4%. Over time, this figure has fallen, and achieved some stability. This year, the average rate has risen beyond 3% for the first time since 2009.

Absence rates vary by sector and industry. Transport and storage organisations experienced the highest rate of sickness absence in 2016 among private-sector-services firms: an average of 8.7 days. Food, drink and tobacco organisations continue to experience the highest levels of sickness absence within all private-sector organisations, losing an average of 12.3 days per employee.
The median cost of absence remains the same as that recorded in 2015: £455 per employee. However, the median cost of absence is higher among private-sector organisations – at £765 per employee, compared with £746 for public-sector employers.

These figures are unlikely to reflect the true cost of sickness absence to organisations. Just 10 (8%) of those that provided figures measure costs arising from reduced performance or service, or missed business opportunities. Fewer than one in five (19%) measure the fees or wages of temporary staff providing cover for absent individuals. Until organisations get the cost of sickness absence accurate, it is going to be difficult to persuade line managers and senior managers to engage with effectively managing employees’ absence.

Source: XpertHR (4th August 2017)