Sickness Absence: As A Business Leader Are You Seeing The Whole Truth?

The contentious issue of sickness absence is rarely out of the news and for good reason – it’s an absolute profit destroyer for both the private and public sectors.

Last month, a report published by The HSE revealed the annual cost of sickness to the wastage industry is £70m – that’s a lot of wastage that could be avoided. Meanwhile, on the public side of the fence, new figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) report that sickness absence rates in the NHS are at their lowest for 5 years.

Despite that, the average number of days lost per employee currently stands at 14 days – an extraordinarily high number considering that this is only for sickness and does not include other unplanned absences such as carers leave. Furthermore, even at these staggering levels, we are unlikely to be seeing the whole picture; with a strong likelihood that many businesses are failing to correctly report every absence.

One of the main problems is that it is almost always line managers who are responsible for capturing the data and reporting back to the business, the same line managers who are held to account should absence levels be deemed to be too high within their team. Ask yourself, is it really in a line manager’s best interests to report every case? No, it’s like asking a turkey to vote for Christmas!

Now, this is not to say that all managers are bad at reporting sickness absence – far from it. But when businesses continue to push for ‘more from less’, leaving managers increasingly stretched, even the best ones can let their administrative responsibilities slip. Let’s face it – filling in forms is not the most rewarding part of anyone’s job!

So the odd day’s absence here and there gets missed. Is it a big deal? Well, multiply that across the workforce and what you’re looking at is some seriously flawed reporting.

Carly Fiorina, former chair of Hewlett-Packard says, “The goal is to turn data into information, and information into insight. But with poor data you have poor insight which drives poor decisions, so capturing every single absence is fundamental to successfully managing it.”

If you are leaving reporting to each individual manager you are leaving it totally open to chance. Missing 10% of all cases might seem irrelevant but, if those 10% of managers are not doing this, guess what – they’re likely to be missing other staff-related tasks, too. And it’s in these dark corners of the business where the real problems of absence are potentially lurking, waiting to reveal themselves as costly long-term absentees or, even worse, employee litigation cases.

Absence also has the ability to affect other important areas such as customer service, profitability, staff morale and operational efficiency, but attempts to implement better reporting processes are often a ‘finger in the air’ because the management of these processes falls at the first hurdle. As the old adage goes “You can’t manage what you don’t measure”. So ask yourself – are you still sure that you’re seeing the whole truth?

These problems are one of the main reasons why more and more business are changing their HR strategy and outsourcing their absence management. The advantages of outsourcing include gaining access to real time information and key performance indicators (KPI) via the latest HR software, which also provides managers with the necessary tools needed to implement and maintain a consistent absence management strategy. In turn, this can help improve staff morale and customer service, increase operational efficiency, offer long-term savings and, most importantly, increase profits.