In total more two-fifths (43 per cent) of businesses had employees absent for at least four weeks due to ill-health over the last two years, according to research from the British Chambers of Commerce and Unum.
The overriding impact of these absences are operational (cited by 88 per cent of respondents) and on staff morale (76 per cent) according to this survey of over 1,000 businesses of various sizes and working across all sectors.
Respondents also reported financial impacts (cited by 44 per cent of respondents) and reputational impacts (36 per cent) as a result of staff absence.
The business-to-consumer sector — which includes retail, catering, and hotels — was more likely to feel the impact of staff absence, with 93 per cent of firms reporting operational impacts and 85 per cent affecting staff morale.
The BCC says most businesses recognise the importance of supporting employee health and wellbeing, with 62 per cent offering benefits such as access to wellbeing support, private medical insurance, occupational support services and healthy lifestyle benefits — such as gym membership and cycle to work schemes.
The survey found that 41 per cent of businesses believe that providing financial protection benefits, such as income protection insurance and critical illness cover, could, or does, help them to attract and retain employees. This rises to 52 per cent for larger companies with more than 50 employees
The government is currently consulting on proposals to prevent health-related job loss, which will require businesses to take a more proactive role.
The BCC’s head of people policy, Jane Gratton says: “People are the most important asset of any business and a healthy and happy workforce lends itself to increased morale and productivity.
“Many firms already take proactive steps to support the physical and mental wellbeing of staff.
“Maintaining employees’ health and resilience is always the best option, but when people are absent though ill health it is in everyone’s best interests that they are supported back into work as quickly as possible. But managing sickness absenteeism can be difficult and expensive for businesses, especially smaller firms who don’t have access to specialist in-house HR services.”
She says employers need access to good quality, affordable services to help them understand how to support staff and ensure they have up-to-date information and guidance on everyone’s rights and responsibilities.
The BCC says it is calling for any additional statutory payment to be reimbursed or off-set in some way, to reflect the extent to which firms are already struggling with the cumulative cost of employment.
Unum UK’s chief executive Peter O’Donnell adds: “Sickness absence has a major impact on businesses of all sizes and across all sectors.
“Coping with illness can be very hard for employees and their families and good employers want to both support their people as much as possible and manage the negative impact on their business.
“With the financial assistance and rehabilitation support they provide, GIP products are invaluable during a period of illness, but equally access to early clinical help whenever it’s needed is also very helpful and reassuring for both employers and employees.
“After reviewing some of the biggest problems for SMEs and their employees, we found fast access to key medical services would bring very tangible benefits. As a result we recently launched help@hand to provide employees and their families with access to remote GPs, second opinions, physiotherapy and mental health support via an easy to use app.”