Line managers underprepared by employers to manage absence

New survey finds more employers acknowledging critical role of line managers in addressing absence at work, but not giving them tools and support they need

More employers are recognising the value of line managers in managing absence at work, but are not giving them the key support necessary to do it effectively, according to the 2016 CIPD/Simplyhealth Absence Management Survey.

The survey asked more than 1,000 employers about their most effective approaches for managing absence, and found significant increases since 2015 in the amount of employers valuing the involvement of line managers. Nearly three in ten employers (28%) now say line managers taking primary responsibility for absence management is in their top three most effective approaches for managing short-term absence (2015: 17%) and two in ten (20%) for long-term absence management (2015: 11%). Similarly, a quarter of employers (25%) identified line managers being given sickness absence information (absence figures, causes and trends) as one of the most effective approaches to manage short-term absence (compared to 18% in 2015) and 15% said this was true for managing long term absence (compared to 7% in 2015).

However, the survey found that, while employers increasingly recognise the vital role that line managers play in supporting employees, most are not giving them the tools they need to manage absence effectively. Less than half (44%) train managers to handle short-term absence, a drop from 52% in 2015. And just 38% said managers are trained to manage long-term absence (45% in 2015). The survey also found decreases in the provision of tailored support for line managers. Just a fifth (20%) provide tailored support to manage short-term absence, a drop from over a quarter (26%) in 2015, and only a quarter (25%) offer this for long-term absence (a drop from 34% in 2015).

Dr Jill Miller, Research Adviser at the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development
Line managers have an essential role in organisations, acting as a link between the senior team and the wider workforce. Their role can cover a vast range of areas, from identifying and resolving workplace issues, to keeping employees engaged and supported. It therefore makes perfect sense that employers increasingly want them to be involved in managing absence levels, but unfortunately this survey shows that the training and support for them to do this effectively just isn’t there.

Line managers are usually the first port of call on health and well-being issues within their team, and make day-to-day decisions about work allocation and staffing arrangements. They therefore need to have both the competence and confidence to consider the well-being of the individuals they manage, and help shape the work environment to suit their needs. This is a serious responsibility that should be built into their job role, rather than an add-on, so they can invest the time in building their capabilities, and with an emphasis on their own well-being as well as their teams.
Dr Jill Miller, Research Adviser at the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development

The survey also found that more than a third (35%) of respondents said their organisation has a well-being strategy or programme in place, either standalone or as part of their wider people strategy. This is compared to 57% who don’t have a formal strategy, but have either individual well-being initiatives in place or act on an ad-hoc basis.

Nearly half (46%) of the employers surveyed reported their organisation has increased its focus on well-being over the last 12 months. Giving the most prominent reasons for this, 63% of respondents said they want their organisation to be a great place to work, 47% said their organisation believes employee well-being is linked to business performance, and 43% said their organisation believes it’s the right thing to do. Additionally, nearly two-fifths (37%) of organisations that invest in well-being say they have increased their well-being spend over the last twelve months and almost two-thirds (64%) have improved communications to staff about the well-being benefits on offer and how to access them (2015: 48%).

Dr Jill Miller, Research Adviser at the CIPD,  the professional body for HR and people development
It’s great to see that many employers who are already focusing on well-being are seeing its value, and looking to hone their strategies to suit employee needs. We can also see that the business case for investing in well-being is being recognised by a substantial number of employers. With the uncertainty that Brexit has brought to the labour market, employers should be focusing now more than ever on engaging and retaining staff, and well-being and managing absence have a significant role. If employees feel their organisation cares about their well-being, they are more likely to be productive at work, benefitting the long term, sustainable health of the business. Creating a healthy workplace is good for employees and good for business.
Dr Jill Miller, Research Adviser at the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development
Corinne Williams, Head of HR at Simplyhealth
It’s clear that employee well-being is moving up the agenda in many organisations and that successful interventions are being seen as having a positive effect on employee health, engagement and ultimately, attendance.  With the UK having an increasingly ageing workforce that spends more time at work than ever before, and often juggles a range of social, caring and family responsibilities, there’s a greater need to focus more seriously on the role employers can play to help improve both the physical and mental health of their workforce. 

The balance of environmental, social and economic factors that impact workforce health will vary widely between individual employees, thus interventions implemented to support wellness will depend on the size, shape and purpose of the organisation. The key is in defining what underpins employee well-being at work and then embedding both strategic and day to day activities that reinforce these to help employees to focus on their own wellness and increase the overall engagement and productivity of the workforce.
Corinne Williams, Head of HR at Simplyhealth

Further highlights of the survey include:

• The average level of employee absence is 6.3 days per employee per year (2015: 6.9; 2014: 6.6; 2013: 7.6). Absence levels tend to be higher in larger organisations, regardless of sector

•Nearly three quarters (72%) of employers report they have observed ‘presenteeism’ – people coming into work unwell – within their organisation, and 3 in 10 (29%) say they’ve seen an increase in the last 12 months. Nearly half (48%) of organisations have taken steps to discourage presenteeism, a considerable increase on previous years (2015: 31%; 2014: 32%; 2013: 34%)

•The most common top five causes of short-term absence are: Minor illness (95%), Stress (47%), musculoskeletal injuries (44%), Home/family/carer responsibilities (35%), and mental ill health (34%)

•The most common top five causes of long-term absence are: Stress (53%), acute medical conditions (53%), mental ill health (49%), musculoskeletal injuries (44%) and back pain (35%)

Dr Jill Miller, Research Adviser at the CIPD, will showcase key findings of the report and explore absence management and employee well-being trends at the CIPD’s Annual Conference and Exhibition, 9-10 November 2016.