The Absence Series: What is Absence and how does it affect businesses?

January 30, 2018

‘The average level of employee absence (6.3 days per employee) has decreased in all sectors and is at its lowest level for seven years.’ according to the CIPD 2016 annual absence management survey report. Over this series of blogs, Tim will be discussing what absence means, the causes and effects of absence, and how we ultimately plan and manage it.

By Tim Frear

Absence has been at the forefront of my family over the past year with my father being off work for 12 months due to a health-related driving ban and my mother having a heart attack. This has resulted in both my sister and I taking time off to support the family where needed.

When discussing absence, we need to consider, amongst others:

  • Annual leave
  • Time off for dependants
  • Compassionate leave
  • Sickness

These series of blogs will focus on sickness, as UK organisations don’t tend to have an issue with annual leave and managing the workload of those on annual leave.

The difference between short and long-term absence

Many companies define short and long-term absence differently. Acas define short-term sickness absence as lasting less than a week and long-term sickness absence lasting several weeks or more, whereas the CIPD consider short term absence as being up to four weeks.

We have always been told short term absence causes the most disruption to organisations. This is because up to 80% of absences are short term (Acas). Organisations must spend unplanned time managing meetings, appointments and workloads of those off sick. This causes disruption in the team, and if not handled correctly, can damage morale and increases discord within effective teams.

Short term absences include:

  • Colds
  • Flu
  • Stomach upsets
  • Headaches and migraines


The CIPD state that non-genuine absence remains among the top causes of short-term absence for a quarter of organisations. Whereas stress and acute medical conditions head up the list for long-term absence.

Long term absences don’t cause as much discord within the organisation and team, as many people will have visible signs of illness or have had operations/time in hospital, therefore their absence is accepted and planned for.

The CIPD refer to non-genuine absence as absences that are illegitimate along with time off for dependants and carer responsibilities. Illegitimate time off or ‘pulling a sickie’ is one of the hardest areas to evaluate as an HR professional. We only have the employee’s word to give us an insight into why they’re off.

This underlying impact on the business can be detrimental if not managed correctly, and within adequate time will cause others to feel like they can take time off with no repercussions. Sickness causes reduced productivity and poor morale among employees who must ‘fill in’ or do extra work to cover absent co-workers.

The impact of absence in physical cost can be astronomical and must be accounted for annually to ensure adequate budget. In the private industry the average cost per employee of sickness absence is £522 per person per year, the public sector is £313 more per year sitting at £835 per person per year. These figures are on a downward trend as more companies are now effectively managing sickness absence.

Over this series of blogs I will look at the causes of absenteeism, the effects paid leave versus unpaid leave has on the level of sickness absence. I will look at the public sectors versus the private sectors. As public have higher level of sickness absence, what are we doing in the private industry to keeps the level of absence down? I will also be exploring best practice within our client base and how organisations can create a better and healthier culture.

Leeds based HR180 is a team of superheroes in HR Outsourcing, Projects and Consultancy committed to work in partnership with organisations of all sizes to establish working policies to go above and beyond Employment Law requirements, to protect both employees and employers alike. We love to hear from you, so call us on 0113 287 8150 or hit the Rescue Me button.

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