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Family problems are the main reason for employee absence in a fifth of businesses

Family issues rank alongside cancer and heart attack as top causes for workplace absence, new research reveals.

According to Group Risk Development (GRiD), family and home issues are the top cause for workplace absence for 18% of employers, as workplace stress grows resulting from the downturn.

The survey shows18% of businesses polled claimed family issues were the top cause for workplace absence.  By contrast, 15% said workplace stress was the main culprit and 12% of businesses said musculoskeletal disorders were the most common reason for staff absence.  

The findings highlight just how complex the root causes of workplace absence can be - and how difficult they are to manage.  But in an era when the Government's new Fit Notes initiative is putting far greater emphasis on employers getting staff back to work, employers can't afford to let such broader triggers of absence go under the radar.

Katharine Moxham, spokeswoman for GRiD, said: "There's a growing awareness of the impact of absence on business productivity and team morale.  But the tendency is still to treat it as an ‘isolatable' issue affecting a specific individual rather than looking at the broader picture. The reality is that team-mates can become sick due to a colleague's absence or, as our research proves, family issues can spill over to affect an employee's ability to perform in the work context.

"The need to minimise these harmful effects is of particular importance to employers with the launch of Fit Notes on 6 April 2010.  The new Fit Note is geared towards facilitating employees' timely return to work - as soon as they are deemed fit to work in any capacity and links in with the requirement for employers to make reasonable adjustments under the Disability Discrimination Act. So there's a real business need to tackle the root causes of absence.

"Adoption of support services appears not to be very high so far. Just 9% of our sample claimed to offer an Employee Assistance Programme and only 8% had occupational health in place. But, if used correctly, services such as these can frequently prevent absence from happening in the first place, so not utilising them could turn out to be a false economy."