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Fall in sickness absence stalls

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The downward trend in sickness absence rates has stalled, as figures have shown a slow but sure year-on-year decline in overall absence levels across employers over the past five years, but that trend has halted for the current year.

The latest findings released by XpertHR for 2012 reveal a slight upward rise in absence levels across the economy. The median percentage of working time lost to absence in 2012 was 2.6 percent, 0.1 percentage point higher than the 2.5 percent XpertHR recorded for 2011.

“Employers should not attach too much significance to this one-year blip – the results indicate only a marginal rise in absence figures and one year’s findings cannot indicate a trend,” says Rachel Suff, XpertHR author of the report. “However, after year-on-year reductions in sickness absence levels across the economy, there may come a point when the downwards trajectory does start to level off.”

Although the 2012 headline figure represents a marginal increase compared to the previous year, it is still significantly lower than the 3.1 percent recorded by XpertHR five years ago, in 2008. It should also be noted that the organisations taking part in this year’s and last year’s surveys do not represent a fully matched sample.

This year, we find that absence rates have increased slightly in private-sector services and public services (2.5 percent and 3.3 percent median percentage of working time lost in 2012, respectively, compared to 2.3 percent and 3.1 percent in 2011). However, absence levels have continued their downward trajectory in manufacturing and production: a median of 2.3 percent of working time lost in 2012 compared with 2.5 percent in 2011.

By the end of 2013, the Government plans to introduce a new national work and health assessment and advisory service where GPs will be required to refer patients to the service who have been on sickness absence leave for four weeks or more. We asked respondents whether or not they think that this new service will help their organisation to reduce sickness absence levels.

Our survey sample is divided on whether or not they think the new initiative will make a difference, with marginally more employers (51.4 percent) indicating that it will improve sickness absence, compared to 48.6 percent who do not think that it will.

The widely differing experience of workforce absence among UK employers is evident when the XpertHR findings are broken down into specific industries. Absence levels range from a median of 1.6 percent of working time lost in engineering and metals firms to 3.7 percent of working time lost in the not-for-profit Sector.

Absence rates by sector and industry 2012: percentage of working time per annum




n =

Private-sector services

Total for sector

2.9 percent

2.5 percent



2.2 percent

2.2 percent


General services

2.5 percent

2.1 percent


Not for profit

3.8 percent

3.7 percent


Retail and wholesale

2.0 percent

2.0 percent


Transport and communications

2.9 percent

2.9 percent


Manufacturing and production

Total for sector

2.8 percent

2.3 percent


Engineering and metals

1.5 percent

1.6 percent


General manufacturing

2.7 percent

2.3 percent


Public sector

Total for sector

3.3 percent

3.3 percent


Statistical breakdowns are shown only where the sample size is at least 10.

Source: XpertHR.

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