East of England has UK’s third-lowest rate of sickness absence

Jim Davison, regional director in the East for EEF.

Jim Davison, regional director in the East for EEF. - Credit: SOLENT NEWS AND PHOTOS

The East of England has the UK’s third lowest rate of absence due to sickness, according to a study from manufacturers’ organisation EEF.

The 2015 EEF Sickness Absence Survey shows that a average of 4.4 days per employee were lost to sickness in the region last year, down from 4.5% in 2013.

Only the West Midlands (4.2 days) and the North East (4.3 days) lost less time to sickness while, at the other end of the scale, the North West was worst affected with an avearage of 6.2 days.

The survey, published jointly by EEF and employee benefits company Jelf, shows that the level of absence in the East of England has remained steady year-on-year at 2%, below the national average of 2.2%.

However, overall sickness rates have started to creep up, suggestings that the days of “presenteeism” – a trend particularly noticed around the time of the recession – are over.

Nationally, 5.1 days a year were lost in 2014 compared to 4.8 days the year before and the report says that employers are struggling to address mental health issues in the workplace amidst growing concern at long-term absence trends.

Two fifths of companies saw an increase in long-term absence last year, the largest increase in five years. While back pain and musculoskeletal disorders remain the biggest cause of long-term absence (34%), stress and mental health disorders are ranked as the most difficult to make workplace adjustments for (32%).

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Furthermore, a third of employers said that they do not have a system in place for managing mental health-related long-term absence.

The survey also shows that employers’ approach to managing absence remains mixed. The number of companies setting absence targets is increasing (a third have no target compared to two fifths last year) and two fifths can make workplace adjustments or provide training to manage long-term absence.

However, almost three quarters of companies don’t measure the cost of sickness absence, while 70% don’t measure the return on their investment for the health and well-being benefits they offer.

According to EEF, the new Fit for Work service will be critical in reducing long-term absence, especially musculoskeletal disorders and mental health issues, and the report contains a number of recommendations on how to make the service succeed.

Jim Davison, EEF regional director for the East of England, said: “While overall levels remain low, there continues to be a marked difference between short and long-term absence, which is creeping upwards. Without a renewed effort to tackle the root causes it will continue to act as a drag on the economy and a brake on efforts to improve productivity and boost growth.

“Of particular concern is the gradual increase in stress and mental health-related problems over the last 5 years, which GPs and employers are struggling to deal with.

“As a society we can no longer ignore the very real impact of these issues both on the individuals concerned and the wider economy. While employers and GPs appear able to manage other causes of absence they must now be given the tools to deal with stress and mental health issues in the same way.”

EEF will be presenting the report’s findings today at the national Safety and Health Expo in London. Businesses interested in finding out more about the support available to help them with workplace issues, including sickness absence, should visit www.eef.org.uk/business-support.