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Fall in UK absence levels could be masking deeper problems says CIPD

The average level of employee absence in the UK has fallen compared with last year – from 7.7 days to 6.8 per employee per year – according to this year’s Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD)/Simplyhealth Absence Management Survey, published today.

However the survey found that the fall in absence levels coincides with almost a third of employers reporting an increase in the number of people going into work ill.

It claims the threat of redundancies and concerns over job security are shown to contribute to such 'presenteeism', with organisations that are expecting to make redundancies in the next six months more likely to report an increase in employees going into work when unwell, than employers that are not expecting to cut jobs.

The survey found that stress-related absence also appears to be on the increase, with two-fifths of employers (40%) reporting a rise over the past year and only one in ten (10%) reporting that the problem had decreased.

The level of reported mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression, among employees is also on the increase. More than twice the number of employers (44%) reported an increase in mental health problems in 2012 than did in 2009 (21%).

Helen Dickinson, people director at health insurance firm Simply-Health, said: "Last year saw stress become the number one cause of workplace absence for the first time, and that trend has continued.

"In contrast, it's good to see well being strategies increasing among businesses, with the survey showing 55% of organisations now have one in place, compared to only 30% in 2008. This means that there is focus on doing what's best for employees and improving business health."

According to the survey, organisations that have noted an increase in presenteeism over the past year are more likely to report an increase in stress-related absence over the same period (52% compared with 38% of those who did not report an increase in people coming in to work ill). However, the survey shows that they are more likely to report an increase in mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression (62% compared with 35% of those who did not report an increase in people coming into work ill).

Dr Jill Miller, research adviser at CIPD, said: "The findings from this year's survey present some positive news. But we must air caution before celebrating lower absence levels because they may be masking deeper problems in the workplace."

She added: "Continuing economic uncertainty and fears over job security appear to be taking their toll on employees.

"Failing to address employees' concerns is likely to confound the issue, impact on morale and commitment and may cause or exacerbate stress or mental health problems."

The Absence Management Survey was conducted by a postal survey in June 2012 based on 667 responses from employers.