By Daniel Hunter

Two in five (40%) of UK employers have seen their sickness absence rates improve over the last 12 months, according to new research from Group Risk Development (GRiD), the trade body for the group risk industry.

This is 6% up on last year, and in comparison to just 15% who said they felt their rates has worsened, indicating improvement across the board in managing employee absence.

While 62% said this was down to good morale in the workplace, one in five (21%) said health and wellness initiatives to support staff were a key reason. However, over a third (36%) put this down to staff anxiety about losing their jobs if they did not come into work.

Employers are using a variety of measures to reduce absence and improve attendance - ranging from return to work interviews, training for line managers, to absence monitoring at board level. GRiD's research shows return to work interviews remain the most common strategy with 30% of employers utilising them. There has been an increase in employers using capability procedures and absence as a KPI and, notably, an increase in absence being monitored at board level, which could go some way towards explaining the improved absence rates.

Katharine Moxham, spokesperson for Group Risk Development, said: “It’s really encouraging to see that businesses have various strategies in place to prevent and manage absence, and the fact that this has dropped could be down to the benefits of these initiatives filtering through the business.

"However, sickness absence is costing 62% of employers questioned between 1 and 4.99% of their overall payroll, highlighting the need for a long-term strategy to ensure good morale across the workplace and promote health and well-being to keep employees in work. Absence rates may be improving, but it’s vital to keep these initiatives going to cushion against future absences and avoid any surprise costs.”