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Better absence management has helped reduce days lost to sickness by a quarter

Days lost to sickness have fallen markedly in the last 18 years. They have dropped from 178 million in 1993 to 131 million last year, representing a decline of more than a quarter (26 per cent) over the period, according to the Office for National Statistics.

It would be pleasing to imagine that this is because the UK is now a fitter, healthier nation. In reality, analysts put much of this down to improved strategies in dealing with absenteeism and a greater understanding of the main issues.

Managers are now better equipped to deal with absence. Better monitoring means it's easier to spot patterns of absence and their possible causes. This has given employers insights into problems that might be particular within types of work or organisation. For example, greater absence levels tend to increase with high levels of overtime or frequently rotating shifts. It's also more prevalent in larger organisations where individuals feel less likely to be missed. During times of economic hardship people are less likely to take sickness leave because of worries about job security.

There is wider recognition now that absences can be because of issues in the workplace. A good absence management procedure will uncover the cause of persistent absences and make the necessary improvements. This might include changes to job design, employment relations, communication of information, quality of working relationships and flexible working arrangements.

A more rigorous approach generally makes absence more likely to be noticed and investigated. Return to work interviews make it harder for employees to take time off without a proper reason and the 'fit note' allows doctors to suggest ways that employees can get back to work sooner than they might have done under the old 'sick note'.

As absence can have serious effects on operating costs and productivity, it's important for organisations to have proper absence management procedures in place. Acas runs practical training courses on Absence management and Creating an attendance culture in the workplace.

Visit the Acas Training Courses, Workshops and Projects area for more information.

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