Employee absence levels up, finds small business owners

Almost a quarter of small business managers in the UK say they have seen staff absence levels rise in the last 12 months, research finds.

The figure of 24 per cent compares to 19 per cent that have seen absence levels decrease and 54 per cent not noticing a difference, with the remaining 3 per cent unsure.

The Close Brothers Business Barometer, which canvasses the opinion of SME owners from a variety of sectors across the UK on a quarterly basis, further reveals that over a third of respondents believe that their organisation has a problem with employees abusing sick leave.

Two thirds of employers surveyed cite minor illnesses, such as the flu, to be the main cause of employee absence, with post-operative recovery the second most common reason for time off work.

CEO of Close Brothers Asset Finance Mike Randall says that while the majority of sick leave taken is genuine, absenteeism is a growing problem for many UK firms and if not managed properly, it could have a serious impact on productivity levels.

‘Our research suggests that a considerable number of employers are concerned about the level of non-genuine sickness within their organisation,’ he says. ‘In the current climate, many workplaces are already stretched and employers are aware that they have a responsibility to protect their staff from undue stress.

‘That is why it is important that unauthorised absence is managed consistently and fairly to help minimise the impact on the wider workforce and ensure diligent colleagues aren’t left to pick up the slack on a regular basis.’

Randall says that between the cold, dark mornings and the allegedly most depressing day of the year, ‘Blue Monday’ approaching, it’s easy to understand the appeal of an unauthorised duvet day.

‘It’s a good idea to reconsider your current absence policy; one option might be to allow employees additional flexibility to book leave at short notice.’

The Business Barometer further revealed that the ‘fit note’, which was introduced by the government to help minimise the cost of absenteeism, does not seem to be as effective as first hoped. As many as one in five employers say it has not lived up to their expectations.

‘Managing staff absence can seem like a daunting task, but it’s too important to ignore. A carefully implemented absence policy could help to improve productivity, boost staff morale and protect your bottom line,’ Randall adds.

Further reading on managing staff

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel was the editor of SmallBusiness.co.uk from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.

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Absence and Absenteeism