The Cost and Myths of Staff Absence

Last week our Managing Director, Malene Nielsen, was invited to speak about “the cost and myths of staff absence” at Jelf Employee Benefits’ 4th annual wellbeing event at the Museum of London.

Malene kicked off the proceedings by making sure that the audience got a little light entertainment – saying that absence is not only a deadly serious issue, but also one of the funniest. To illustrate her point she used a few jokes to break the ice and ensure her audience were engaged.

Moving on to more serious matters it was clear that although the audience (as evidenced through anonymous voting in both the morning and afternoon sessions) all realised the importance of measuring and monitoring absence, not a single person knew what absence was costing their organisation.

In the same week that the CIPD released its annual absence management survey (as we wrote about here), we had an interesting discussion with Steve Herbert of Jelf – something that he also mentions in his blog – about absence levels rising proportionally with the size of organisations.

As the CIPD report states:

“Absence levels also tend to increase with organisation size, regardless of sector.”

Steve Herbert was interested in this because it illustrated the growing pains of companies and, as Malene said, “absence is the second highest employee cost for many organisations”. However, there are a couple of other facts that we would like to draw your attention to and that is the following:

Even though absence levels are seen to be falling (according to both the CIPD report and one Jelf has done in conjunction with EEF – The manufacturers’ organisation), there are some very worrying trends: “More than a third (36%) of companies say that long-term sickness absence has increased over the past two years”. As we have previously pointed out it has been a long established fact and well known that only 20% of people receiving incapacity benefit for more than six months will return to work in the following five years (source: The BMJ) and that according to British government data, each year more than 300,000 fall out of work and onto health related state benefits.

Perhaps even more worryingly – keeping in mind that if the bigger the company, the bigger the absence problem – it’s primarily the small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs), which can even find the time to respond to the surveys. In the case of the EEF – Jelf survey, 82% of respondents are SMEs. What does this tell us? That the numbers look good on the surface, but in reality larger companies are too busy fighting an absence management problem to even have time to respond to a survey? If that’s the case then there really is a much bigger problem at hand and that is that companies don’t even know where to begin when it comes to tackling absence.

Tackling absence at its root comes down to understanding how to measure it, and determine where money can be saved – and profits unlocked, as well as tackling some of the common misconceptions about absence. This is exactly what Malene spoke about and you can download her slides here:

We have also written an eBook about the “Truth and Myths of Absence Management” and you can get a copy for FREE by sending us an email at