Belfast Telegraph

Firms 'too lax over sickness absences'

By Clare Weir

Less than half of employers polled in a new survey are taking steps to reduce sickness absences from their firms while 13% do not record them at all.

The independent research was carried out on behalf of business financial advisors Kerr Henderson, private healthcare insurance company H3 and Ellipse, a group risk insurance company.

A total of 71% indicated that they actively record absence, but respondents were less likely to report active monitoring (55%) or management (48%) of absence.

Some 70% estimated absence costs to their company of less than 5%, 19% believed that they were higher than this, while 12% were not sure of the cost. Respondents reported the following as main causes of absence as colds and flu (82%), gastro and digestive (50%), injuries (19%) and stress or anxiety (19%)

The poll of around 200 public and private sector employers has also revealed gaps in their understanding of benefits helpful to employees and the financial impact of new legislation on their profitability and business costs.

Other findings include that less than half of businesses in Northern Ireland know the staging dates that apply to them under the new pensions regime.

Employees value employer provided private medical insurance over a company car, childcare vouchers and income protection, with only a pension scheme or a mobile phone coming higher on the list of preferred benefits.

The research also indicated that employers would provide additional employee benefits if they were incentivised by government.

John Kerr, director at Kerr Henderson said that most companies want to look after their employees well but don't necessarily see how effective use of employee benefits can help reduce their own costs, reduce absence and also keep their staff happy.

Jim Livingstone, sales and business development manager at H3 Insurance, added that one in 10 private sector employers did not know how much sickness absence was costing them in relation to their payroll.

"As waiting lists for treatment grow longer the business impact on local employers of long-term sickness can be critical," he said.

"Businesses need to monitor and understand the impact of sickness absence."

Ellipse chief executive John Ritchie said he was struck by the disparity between how confident employers are that they understand the new pensions regime and their preparedness for it.

"It's reasonable to assume that the same situation prevails in the rest of the UK," he said. "The costs of complacency in this area are very high. It is essential employers realise their responsibility."

The online survey was sent to 500 businesses in Northern Ireland, and was completed by 196 respondents between November 1 and 28, 2012.

Belfast Telegraph