Average employee absence at lowest level for 19 years but stress absence up

The average level of employee absence is at the lowest level ever recorded by the CIPD, but poor management has led to a spike in stress absence.

The CIPD’s Health and Well-Being at Work Survey 2019 reveals that nearly two-fifths of UK businesses have seen an increase in stress-related absence over the last year, with heavy workloads and poor management style to blame.

The survey ‘uncovers evidence of more unhealthy trends in the workplace linked to stress’:

  • More than four-fifths (83%) of respondents have observed 'presenteeism’ in their organisation and a quarter (25%) say the problem has got worse since the previous year.
  • Nearly two-thirds (63%) have observed ‘leaveism’ (such as using holiday leave to work) in their organisation. More than half (55%) say their organisation hasn’t taken any steps to address the issue.
  • Only 50% of managers have undergone training to support their staff to better manage stress
  • Out of the minority of organisations taking action to tackle leaveism and presenteeism, only 37% of managers have been trained to spot the warning signs of either.

These findings represent, says the CIPD, a ‘serious failure by senior leaders given that [they] play a vital front-line role in supporting staff with their health and well-being. Managers should be the first port of call if an employee wants to discuss a health condition and are also best placed to spot the early warning signs if someone is struggling to cope’.

These results undermine the fact that the survey records the lowest number of average sick days (5.9 per employee per year) in the 19-year history of the report.

The sharpest falls were seen in the private sector services and non-profit sectors The decline in the average absence level of the public sector is much smaller, resulting in an increasingly higher absence level compared with other sectors (at 8.4 days nearly double that of 4.4 days in private sector services, 2.8 days more than manufacturing and production, and 2.1 days higher than non-profits).

Minor illness is still by far the most frequent cause of short-term absence. Mental ill health, stress, musculoskeletal injuries and acute medical conditions are most commonly responsible for long-term absence. Mental ill health is increasingly prevalent as a cause of both short- and long-term absence.