According to research by Price Waterhouse Coopers, the annual cost of sickness absence has climbed to £29 billion for UK organisations. This is a mind-boggling figure, but to put it into some context, the cost of sickness absence was estimated to be approximately £609 per employee per year in 2014 (according to the CIPD 2014 Absence Management Survey).
There are various different costs associated with sickness absence including direct and indirect costs:
- Direct costs: e.g. cost of replacement labour, absent employee’s salary, overtime incurred by staff covering the absent employee.
- Indirect costs: e.g. additional stress on other staff who are covering absent employees, reduced productivity and customer service, time taken for a replacement to learn the role and become productive, training and support to other staff.
Of the indirect costs, reduced productivity is particularly hard to quantify but one person’s absence potentially means sharing a role out amongst other staff, and this is almost certain to lead to slippages in their existing workloads. Productivity reductions are particularly associated with other results of ill health in the workplace, namely presenteeism (sometimes also known as ‘sickness presence’). This is when people continue to come to work even when they are really too ill to work effectively.
A 2013 survey by Canada Life UK revealed that out of 1000 people surveyed, 93 per cent of employees attend work despite being unwell, citing five reasons why:
- Not thinking their illness was serious enough to take time off: 76%
- Having too high a workload to justify taking time off: 31%
- Worry about financial implications of taking time off: 20%
- Perceived workplace pressure and feeling guilty for taking sick leave: 19%
- Risk of redundancy being too high: 13%
The presence of unwell employees can negatively impact on many areas including productivity, safety at work, errors in judgment, and relationships between colleagues. The Centre for Mental Health has calculated that presenteeism from mental ill health alone costs the UK economy £15.1 billion per annum, while absenteeism costs £8.4 billion.
Long-term, the best thing that can be done to reduce costs associated with sickness absence and presenteeism is to invest in maintaining healthy and safe workforces. Fit for Work offers free resources with which to help both employers and employees when dealing with health and wellbeing inside and outside the workplace. There is an advice hub offering information and guidance about work-related health topics, live chat instant messaging, and opportunities to ask questions.