Reducing staff sickness absence

A new survey from Acas has found that one in four employers have seen an increase in staff being off sick compared to a year ago.

Acas commissioned YouGov to ask employers at the end of August if they had seen any changes to the number of employees being off sick compared to 12 months ago. The poll found that:

  • 26% of employers had seen an increase in sickness absence;
  • Almost 1 in ten (9%) had seen a decrease;
  • Over half (59%) said that the number of staff being off sick had roughly stayed the same; and
  • 6% didn’t know or were not sure.


It is always important that staff take time off when they are ill, particularly if they have come down with something that might spread around everybody else if they come into work, resulting in more people getting sick and taking time off! However, many employees feel that it is ‘not worth it’ to take time off as they will have to work twice as hard to catch up when they come back, or may be expected to work from home through their sickness absence. Acas advises that businesses should have an absence policy that is clear on what is expected of managers and their staff if they need time off work, so that employees can take time off when it is needed without worrying about the consequences.

In many cases, sickness absence can be caused by stress in the workplace, or by an unsustainable overworking pattern over a long period of time. Sometimes this is caused by employer expectations and organisational culture, but also sometimes this can be caused by employees putting unnecessary pressure on themselves to live up to their own standards. Acas advises that promoting a good work-life balance can lead to lower levels of sickness absence.


Steps that can help to reduce sickness absence include:

  • Create a culture at work where staff feel supported and comfortable raising problems that they trust will be taken seriously
  • Deal with the causes of absence such as work-related stress or workers struggling to balance work and caring responsibilities
  • Encourage staff to speak up if they feel they’re under too much pressure at work
  • Train managers to spot signs of a poor work-life balance
  • Offer flexible working where possible
  • Encourage breaks from work during the day
  • Make sure employees take their holiday entitlement
  • Regularly review workloads
  • Lead by example – if managers and senior leaders have a good work-life balance, this will create a culture for employees to follow


Acas advises that when businesses use the steps above to address sickness absence, the result is improved staff morale and wellbeing, boosted productivity, cost savings, and reduced absence levels. All of which make for happy business owners and employees!


For further information: Reducing sickness absence: Recording and reducing sickness absence – Acas