Do absence targets really work?

The theory is that setting absence targets improves attendance at work but is there evidence to back this? XpertHR has published figures stating that only 44% of employers in the UK set attendance targets, yet of those, 79% believe that the targets have drastically improved their experience of absence management. So why haven’t more companies joined in?

Conversely to the XpertHR findings, the CIPD Annual Absence Management Survey (2012) revealed figures within the public sector that 69% of companies have set absence targets and two thirds of companies have wellbeing strategies. Yet the absence rates in the public sector remain comparatively high at 7.9 days per employee per year. It could be figures such as these that are preventing companies from taking the next step.

XpertHR also writes that the majority (67%) of small and medium sized companies with 250 employees or less don’t set targets, which is likely to link with the relatively low levels of absence in smaller companies. Absence management is often an ad hoc task completed at the discretion of the manager with no formal processes or agreed acceptable levels of absence in place. This can mean that when a problem case arises, it isn’t picked up in time to effectively support the employee’s quick recovery. Targets and flags would help in making sure that warning signs aren’t missed or issues left to build up without proactive management. And if you need incentives to motivate implementing more structured absence policies, just think of the impact this could have on your cost of absence, which currently averages £609 per employee per year in the UK (CIPD 2014).

Working success stories of performance targets would be the true indicators of how effective these measures can be. But, thus far, most success stories include incentives such as financial bonuses for attendance, which begs the question: Is setting targets enough to improve attendance? In our experience the answer is yes. Just implementing a structured absence reporting system is enough to have a positive impact on attendance levels. Putting absence on the agenda and showing your employees that it really matters that they attend work makes staff less likely to take unnecessary days off. Furthermore, helping staff stay healthy shows a caring rather than punitive employer attitude that incentivises personal responsibility of wellbeing among employees.

If you’re thinking about setting attendance targets, ACAS have published a great guide to support absence management, including implementing targets. Studies show that staying in active employment is good for health, so helping keep employees at work is good, not just for the company, but also for the individuals themselves.

If you’d like some personalised information and guidance, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.