Smaller Businesses 'Are Better At Dealing With Sickness Absence'

New Study Highlights The Impact Of Worker Illness On SMEs


David Shirt, Press Officer | 0161 838 3094

Micro-businesses with fewer than ten employees are far more adept at dealing with worker sickness absences than larger firms, a new study by AXA PPP healthcare has found.

The research indicated that smaller companies have an average of 5.2 employee sick days a year, but this figure rises to 6.8 days for organisations that have between 100 and 250 staff.

Although recent reports have suggested small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are starting to reap the benefits of the UK's economic recovery, times are still hard for a lot of firms and absenteeism is having a negative impact on their bottom line.

Sick leave costs the smallest businesses around £3,500 a year, while larger SMEs are losing £40,500 per annum on average.

Managing director of health services at AXA PPP healthcare, Chris Jessop, believes smaller companies sometimes benefit from having a tighter-knit group.

"The findings show that smaller sized firms are more effective at managing sickness absence. This may be down to better communication and trust between bosses and employees that can come from working closely together," he commented.

"Larger sized businesses could learn a lot from their smaller counterparts when it comes to employer-employee relationships."

Mr Jessop thinks there are trust issues at bigger firms and managers are not always convinced that workers who call in sick are genuinely ill.

The research showed 60 per cent of bosses are sceptical about the wellbeing of their absent staff, with more than one in three admitting to checking social media platforms in an attempt to catch out their employees.

A quarter of managers will also ask their colleagues to speak to workers who they suspect are skiving.

This, AXA PPP healthcare suggested, can create unhealthy working environments, as 46 per cent of employees said they feel nervous about taking sick leave - even if they are genuinely too ill to work.

Around half of the survey respondents revealed that they feel stressed at work at least two or three times a week, which can have a negative impact on attendance rates and, ultimately, levels of productivity.

Expert Opinion
Although this survey paints a more positive picture for smaller businesses, there is still plenty that can be done to improve things. Absenteeism can be extremely costly and the impact can be disproportionately high for smaller organisations.

“Businesses need to have robust sickness policies in place and there are a range of tools and tactics that employers now have at their disposal, ranging from investment in in-house counselling services, which provide workers with the support they need to aid recovery and get back into work to the less-costly option of return to work interviews. Using the latter as a key part of the absence process allows employers an opportunity to ask key questions in a considerate way about an employee’s health and welfare, which could mitigate further problems that may worsen without appropriate intervention.

“Often SMEs are unaware of what their legal rights are when it comes to dealing with staff who are often absent from work. It is vital that they seek effective advise on this as it is something that can hamper growth if not dealt with.”
Fergal Dowling, Partner