2015 CIPD Absence Management Survey: Absence statistics and insight

Posted on October 12, 2015 by Daniel Tiley

The 2015 CIPD Absence Management Survey reveals important trends on absence levels that UK employers need to take action on. Here we present key findings from the report and explore why such patterns may have occurred.

Absence levels

Public sector absence levels have risen by almost a day in the last 12 months, while there has been minimal change across the private sector.

Absence levels 2015 - Public sector services 8.7 days. Private sector services 5.9 days.  Absence levels 2014 - Public sector services 7.9 days. Private sector services 5.5 days.

This may be due to the stress placed on employees caused by public spending cuts and the resulting high level of restructuring across the public sector. As this is likely to be an ongoing issue, questions need to be asked about how such stress and uncertainty is being managed in the workplace.


Presenteeism levels haven't fallen under 30% since 2010.

Presenteeism levels haven't fallen under 30% since 2010.

People coming to work ill is more likely to have increased where long working hours and operational demands take precedence over wellbeing concern.

Flexible working can assist in counteracting long working hours, but is it just being offered as a box-ticking exercise for businesses without any thought, strategy or conviction behind it? Or maybe companies still focus on the amount of hours worked rather than the results that are delivered, thus placing more stress on employees? Do organisations need to be looking at their culture?

Stress related absence

More public service organisations (51%) have reported an increase in stress related absence over the past year compared to other sectors. Overall, two-fifths of organisations reported an increase.

Stress related absence - 41% All organisations. 51% Public services.

There seems to be plenty of focus on training for managers to effectively identify and manage stress in their team, although not so much of a focus on stress management for the whole workforce. Perhaps this is why there has been an increase? Teaching employees how to build their personal resilience could have a positive effect on stress related absence rates.

Top three causes of stress at work

The top cause of stress in the workplace is volume of work, followed by non-work factors, and then management style.

Top three causes of stress at work: Volume of work 55%. Non-work factors 38%. Management style 31%.

This leads on to how organisations are managing stress among their employees. There are a range of steps that businesses can take including staff surveys, risk assessments and stress audits, along with improving employees' work/life balance.

But how effective are such techniques and can more be done?

Illegitimate absence

There has been an increase in the proportion of organisations reporting illegitimate absence among their top causes of long term absence for non-manual workers.

Illegitimate absence - 2014: Manual 8%. Non-manual 3%. 2015: Manual 8%. Non-manual 14%.

A key point to consider here is the difference in perception of what classifies being ill enough to stay off work. Different organisations may identify 'pulling sickies' with different criteria depending on what their absence policy is.

How much of the absence being reported as illegitimate is down to reasons that flexible working could help to manage? For example, if an employee is a carer for a loved one outside of work and needs more flexibility to juggle this responsibility with working hours.

And how much is down to legitimate sickness which managers don't understand or know how to deal with, such as ill mental health?

Understanding the root causes of absence is essential to gain a clearer picture of illegitimate and legitimate absence.

Mental health

Over two-fifths of organisations (41%) have seen an increase in reported mental health problems in the last 12 months. In addition, organisations that have experienced an increase in reported mental health problems are twice as likely to provide training compared with those that haven't.

41% increase in reported mental health problems in the last 12 months.

A finding such as this seems to suggest that maybe businesses are responding to mental health issues rather than tackling the root causes.

Are managers and employees receiving training on how to spot early warning signs of possible mental health issues? Do employees know where to turn for support at work? And are companies exploring the link between management style and employees' mental health, or how to manage the rest of a team's expectations in line with employee wishes?

Have you achieved your absence target?

Only 25% of organisations achieved their 2014 target of absence, 38% almost achieved it and 37% failed. Interestingly, those organisations that achieved their target are more likely to have offered a range of wellbeing benefits than those who haven't.

Have you achieved your absence target?

With a clear correlation between offering wellbeing benefits and achieving absence targets, it would be interesting to discover exactly what these wellbeing benefits focus on. Are they more geared towards physical health, mental health, flexible working or good lifestyle choices? And do they consider specific needs of employees such as those with childcare or other caring responsibilities?

Download the full report to find answers to your questions

Would you like a deeper level of analysis and answers to the questions raised throughout this piece? Then simply download the full 2015 CIPD Absence Management Survey.

Download the full report.