Absenteeism costing UK firms millions and what can employers do about it

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Absenteeism costs UK business billions of pounds per year, and mental health issues alone account for £38 billion of the total due to productivity loss.

As a result, employers must look for ways to encourage greater productivity and reduce unplanned absences through flexible working, staff wellbeing and reviewing their working conditions.

By law, any employee who has worked for their employer for at least 26 weeks can request flexible working. Employers may refuse but must deal with the request in a reasonable manner and have a good business reason to deny the request.

Promoting a healthy work-life balance is the key to supporting staff. Offering flexible working options for new and existing employees, including working from home, compressed hours or flexi time, can drastically reduce staff stress. Four-day weeks are also on the rise, with many companies who have adopted this practice reporting huge boosts to productivity.

Giving workers time to manage the demands of outside responsibilities, such as a busy family life or medical issues, will reduce the likelihood of frequent absences. In addition, offering flexible working or fewer hours demonstrates employer commitment to staff while enhancing employee morale.

Having procedures in place to manage staff absences can provide useful insights into the cause and effect of absenteeism. Staff management systems can highlight trends in absences which might indicate problems both inside and outside the workplace. A pattern of absenteeism might uncover a trigger within the working environment, or a personal issue for which staff members need support.

Statistics are useful, but insights gathered from return to work interviews can provide more in depth understanding of a problem.  An absence policy helps staff members understand exactly what their rights and responsibilities are.

Providing a pleasant working environment can also reduce stress or illness caused by bad lighting, poorly designed work stations or noise disturbances. By promoting a company culture which welcomes feedback from staff, employers can help ensure that the workplace itself is not contributing to absences.

Carrying out robust pre-employment screening, including comprehensive employment and reference checks, helps identify candidates who will be the best fit for the company. Interviewing candidates about their experiences with past employers can also inform future policy, with a view to reducing stress, engaging staff and reducing absenteeism across the business.

A company is only as good as its staff, and employers must manage all staff absences fairly and consistently, but most importantly, with empathy.