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Employers change working patterns as absence levels rise, CIPD study finds

Absence rates in the private and public sector have increased over the past year, according to a survey published today by Simplyhealth and the CIPD.

The annual CIPD/Simplyhealth Absence Management survey found on average an employee took 7.6 days absence leave in 2013, compared to 6.8 in 2012. However the number of employers making changes to working patterns to try and reduce long-term absence has increased by 20%.

Absence levels in the public sector are considerably higher than the private sector, the report found. In 2013, 8.7 days per employee were lost in the public sector compared to 7.2 in the private sector.

The study found the cost of absence per employee is £595 a year, although just two-fifths of employers monitor the cost of absence.

The survey, completed by 618 UK employers, found employers are attaching growing importance to making changes to working patterns and environments as a means of managing long-term absence levels.

Some 85% of employers reported they had adjusted working patterns in the past year, compared to 65% in 2012. The study said this is particularly important given two-thirds of working time lost to absence is accounted for by short-term absence.

Reasonable adjustments

The study suggests "reasonable adjustments" can be made at work to help employees return after a period of absence, such as small changes to working hours, like working 10-6 instead of 9-5.

It showed the benefit of changes to working patterns has been recognised by many employers, with more than 70% of employers reporting a positive impact on employee motivation and employee engagement after making changes.

A further 46% said they were using flexible working options to support employees with mental health problems.

Jill Miller, CIPD research adviser and co-author of the report, said it was "fantastic" to see employers recognising the benefits of increased flexible working opportunities.

"It's really important for businesses to recognise new ways of working to support a diverse workforce and to retain talent," said Miller. "Hopefully employees will now be able to better balance their work and home demands."

The 14th annual absence management survey explores absence management trends, policy and practice.