By Mike Allen, Croner Managing Director at Wolters Kluwer

Absence is a perennial problem for employers, but while we often count the cost of sickness, there are many more types of absence that employers have to deal with.

In order to understand this problem better Wolters Kluwer commissioned YouGov to carry out research into employees’ absence from work. UK workers were asked a series of questions in relation to their absence, including the reasons for, and the lengths of these absences.

Which types of absence have you taken off work in the last 12 months?

The results showed that just under half of workers reported taking genuine sickness absence leave and 5% declaring that they had taken time off for non-genuine sickness. The age range with the highest number of both genuine and non-genuine sickness absence was 18-24 year olds. Conversely, the age range with the lowest number of each was those aged 55+.

This outlines a trend that young workers tend to have more periods of sickness absence than older workers and challenges the stereotype that older people are more likely to be off ill than their younger colleagues.

Generational differences may also play a part. Older workers tend to be in more senior responsible jobs and as a result, may be less likely to take frequent short term absence. Also given the recent downturn in the economy, younger workers may have been unable to source employment in their chosen field and as such forced into taking lower paid, less skilled jobs that they are not wholly committed to.

Looking closely into the differences in absence patterns due to gender, it can be seen that 53% of females take genuine sickness absence off work in comparison to 45% of male workers. It could be assumed that this is due to female workers normally being the principle carer for children and if the child is sick, they may also take time of ‘sick’ to care for the child.

Approximately how many days, if any, have you taken off work in the last 12 months (not including holidays)?

56% of workers stated that they had taken 1-5 days off in the past 12 months and another 14% had taken 6-10 days off. These statistics show that in total 70% of UK workers are off work for 1-10 days per year, confirming that short-term absence is by far the most common type of absence presently affecting UK organisations and meaning that action needs to be taken to aid the successful management and reduction of absence, including sickness absence.

The figures from the survey underline an ongoing issue in UK organisations in relation to the effective and successful management of absence and therefore line managers need to ensure that they are fully aware of the organisations absence management policies, procedures and interventions that are important in reducing the cost that absence can have on personal and organisational performance.

The full findings of the research are available in a new Croner white paper by Wolters Kluwer, which can be downloaded free of charge from their website.