Employee absence levels are on the slide in both the private and public sectors, but the falls could be masking deeper health problems in the workplace.
This is the headline finding from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s (CIPD) latest annual absence management survey, which attracted replies from 667 organisations when quizzed on their absence records for their most recent year.
The 2012 survey shows that employees took an average of 6.8 days off in the last 12 months compared with 7.7 days in the previous year.
The fall in absence levels coincides with almost a third of employees reporting an increase in the number of people going into work when ill. The threat of redundancies is shown to contribute to the rise in presenteeism, with organisations that are expecting to make job cuts in the next six months more likely to report an increase in employees going into work when unwell.
The public sector has seen the sharpest fall in absence levels, with an annual average of 7.9 days for every employee the lowest level in a decade; workers in the private sector take an average of 5.7 days off work every year.
Organisations that noted a rise in presenteeism over the past year are also more likely to report an increase in stress-related absence over the same period (52 per cent, compared with 38 per cent of those that did not report an increase in people coming in to work ill). Similarly, businesses with rising presenteeism are more likely to report an increase in mental-health problems, such as anxiety and depression (62 per cent, compared with 35 per cent of those who did not report an increase in people coming into work ill).
Overall, stress-related absence is on the increase, with two-fifths of employers recording a rise over the past year, and just one in ten reporting that the problem had subsided. For the second year running, the survey shows that stress is the most common cause of long-term absence, while more than double the number of employers reported an increase in mental-health problems in 2012 (44 per cent) compared with three years ago (21 per cent).
The proportion of organisations with an employee well-being strategy continues to rise, with 55 per cent of respondents saying they had one in place, compared with 46 per cent in both 2011 and 2010, and 33 per cent in 2009.
Commenting on the figures, Dr Jill Miller, research advisor at the CIPD, said: “Continuing economic uncertainty and fears over job security appear to be taking their toll on employees. We are seeing employees struggling into work to demonstrate their commitment, suggesting presenteeism can be a sign of anxiety.
“Failing to address employees’ concerns is likely to confound the issue, impact on morale and commitment, and may cause, or exacerbate, stress or mental-health problems.”
She urged employers to examine “whether lower absence levels within their own organisations are as a result of more effective absence management, or if they reflect the negative impact of presenteeism”.
Helen Dickinson, people director at health-care solutions provider Simplyhealth, which helped carry out the survey, agreed that the link between job insecurity and presenteeism is unsurprising, but welcomed the rising recognition among employers of having in place a well-being strategy. She said the trend proved that employers are focusing “on doing what’s best for employees and improving business health”.
She added: “The vital role of line managers within well-being strategies cannot be disputed. Early detection of health issues and ensuring the correct support is in place helps people with health problems stay in or return to work.”
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