Reducing costs from absence

Reducing costs from absence

The “Securing Health Together” strategy launched in July 2019 has set several challenging targets as part of the new Strategy including:

20% reduction in incidences of work-related ill health
20% reduction in ill health to members of the public caused by work activity
30% reduction in the number of days lost due to work-related ill health
Those off work through ill health or disability to be made aware where appropriate, of opportunities for rehabilitation into work and/or opportunities to prepare for and find work.


Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development

According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) survey ‘Employee Absence: a survey of management policy and practice’ 84% of employers consider that it is possible to reduce their current level of sickness absence. Some absence will be outside of management’s control, however, positive policies for improving working conditions and motivating staff can go a long way to reducing absence levels.

According to a CBI report ‘Pulling together: 2001 absence and labour turnover survey’ absence rates were lower when primary responsibility for managing absence was given to senior managers or HR managers’.

Taken from CBI report ‘Pulling together: 2001 absence and labour turnover survey

Return to work interviews are seen by the respondents as the most effective way of managing short-term sickness absence. The involvement of occupational health professionals is the favoured approach in dealing with longer-term absences.

The CBI report shows that ’employers need to tailor their absence policies to the causes of absence among their employees – whether stress for non-manual staff or leave seen as an entitlement among manual staff.’

Effective management of sickness absence

Effective management of sickness absence and the proven cost benefits of retention of employees essentially results, therefore, from regular discussions with the person and an inter-departmental approach. Bringing together experts from Human Resources and Occupational Health departments to discuss with the individual what policies can be put into place and what procedures will be followed can be an effective approach. The involvement of line management in the monitoring and evaluation of sickness absence can at least have major implications for the effectiveness of absence management.

There are a number of management tools currently widely used to address the issue of absence.

Taken from Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) report ‘Employee absence: a survey of management policy and practice’ June 2018

According to the CBI report, when asked to rate policies on reducing absence rates return to work interviews came out on top with occupational health provision fifth for both manual and non-manual workers out of fourteen in total.

Minor ailments such as colds and headaches cost employers more, on average, in absence costs than anything else. They can also be the most manageable conditions. Self-care with advice from a pharmacist, of minor ailments such as colds and flu is the quickest and most effective way to relieve symptoms and ensure a speedy return to work. In most cases, a visit to the GP is an unnecessary and time-consuming approach and could be costly for employees and employers.

For information on management of minor ailments such as colds and flu or preventative approaches to health visit the Doctor-Patient Partnership website

The Health and Safety Executive offers advice on the prevention of occupational ill health by ensuring that risks to people’s health and safety from work activities are properly controlled. They run a national public telephone enquiry service from HSE Infoline which offers advice on general enquiries, their publications, and how to find your way round HSE, Tel 08701 545500, open 8.30am to 5.0pm Monday to Friday. You can also fax on 02920 859260, e-mail or check for information on the ‘Securing Health Together’ strategy.

Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents

According to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) in UK accidents at work are a key factor in absence costs. There are:

1.6 million workplace injuries every year as well as 2.2 million cases of ill health caused or made worse by work
1.2 million people suffering from musculoskeletal disorders (such as back pain and repetitive strain injuries) caused by their work
70 per cent of workplace accidents could be preventedif employers put proper safety control measures in place

RoSPA regularly attempts to identify safety concerns or gaps which if resolved will have a significant impact and safety gain. For more information about what you can do to prevent work place accidents go to the RoSPA website. Many employers have cited stress as the number one attribute for employee absence, the second is help. A number of UK employers have started initiatives to increase and improve their workforce’s health by:

  • Removing smoking areas and introducing vaping only sections (see for more vaping information)
  • Rewarding coming to work by public transport
  • Free membership of local gyms


According to the CBI report the gap between public and private sectors is 10.2 days lost per employee against 7.2 days lost respectively. The gap in sectoral absence has increased with transport and communications sectors being the highest, after the public sector, at 9.4 days lost per employee. The costs of absence correlate to company size.

In order to manage sickness absence it is important for employers to first know their levels of absence and how they compare to other companies in the industry. Benchmarking helps employers to identify gaps in performance between their organisation and the average across a range of people management issues including absence. This allows employers to maximise on areas where performance is high and determine strategies for addressing problems leading to gaps.

Benchmarking tools, such as the CBI’s HEADSTART people management service, are an extremely effective way of measuring performance, but these tools need to be supported by data on absence and labour turnover.

To find out more about your industry averages, benchmarking for absence rates, reports on absence and approaches to preventing and managing sickness absence go to:



Get Involved with the Healthy Workplace Initiative

The workplace is identified as a key setting through which to improve health and reduce health inequalities.

The Healthy Workplace Initiative (HWI) is jointly sponsored by the Department of Health and the Health and Safety Executive and encapsulates a new approach to the problems of health at work.

To underpin the work carried out through the HWI the two departments have signed a Statement of Intent through which we will seek work with others to secure and improve the health of people by:

identifying and promoting examples of good practice for key workplace health issues making available appropriate and up to date
encouraging better access to services and help to provide a bridge between prevention, treatment and rehabilitation
helping to promote compliance with relevant workplace legislation