Absence rates have returned to 2011 and 2010 levels averaging 7.6 days per employee, after falling slightly in 2012, the annual CIPD and Simplyhealth Absence Management survey has revealed.
Absence levels tended to increase with organisation size, regardless of sector. Yet absence levels were at their highest in the public services at 8.7 days per employee per year and lowest in the manufacturing and production sector at 6 days per employee per year.
However, an increasing number of employers appeared to be taking note of the impact of rising absence levels on their business. Compared to 65% last year, 85% of employers reported they'd made changes to working patterns this year to manage long-term absence levels.
This increase of 20% has surpassed the trend of previous years which has seen figures improve marginally by just 2% between 2010 and 2012.
Employers also appeared to recognise the benefit of reasonable adjustments to working patterns, with over 70% of organisations reporting a positive impact on employee motivation and engagement.
Almost half (46%) of respondents stated that flexible working options had been implemented in their workplace to help support workers with mental health issues.
Flexible working practices also witnessed the biggest increase this year as a tool employed by companies to manage short-term absence. In 2013, 62% of employers used flexible working patterns for this, in contrast to just over half (53%) in 2012 - an increase of 9 percentage points.
According to the findings, two-thirds of working time lost to absence was accounted for by short-term absence.
‘Pulling a sickie' remained one of the most common causes of short-term absence, cited by a quarter of employers (26%) compared to last year's figure of 17%.
CIPD research adviser and co-author of the report Dr. Jill Miller said it was "fantastic" that employers were becoming more aware of the benefits of flexible working options.
"It's not just about benefits for employers in terms of being able to attract and retain talented people - over 50% of employees report that flexible working helps them achieve a better work-life balance generally, also citing that it makes them healthier, more productive and reduces the amount of time that they take off sick," Dr. Miller said.
"Offering more flexible working opportunities also helps to respond to the needs of the UK's ageing workforce, in which older employees will increasingly need and want to work in different ways and with different hours as they move towards retirement.
She added: "It's really important for businesses to recognise new ways of working to support a diverse workforce and to retain talent. Hopefully employees will now be able to better balance their work and home demands."
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