Two thirds of businesses (67%) say repeated short-term sickness by staff is the form of absenteeism that impacts their organisation the most, according to a recent survey conducted by employment law and HR consultancy firm, WorkNest.

Less than one in five (16%) said that long-term absences caused by mental health matters were the biggest issue for them and even less (8%) were most impacted by long-term sickness as a result of physical illness.

Bouts of short-term sickness absence is the most disruptive to businesses due to having to find immediate cover and potentially change priorities and demands at very short notice and without warning.

It also impacts productivity and morale amongst employees if it happens frequently, with teams left to carry the extra workload of the absent employee, and subject to additional pressures.

When asked what their biggest frustration is when handling any type of sickness absenteeism, four in ten (42%) said it was that ‘issues drag out too long’ closely followed by three in ten (33%) who said line managers not following procedure correctly is their major annoyance.

Jane Nicholls, Senior Employment Law Adviser & Solicitor at WorkNest, said:

“Whether your business is impacted more by short-term or long-term sickness, the processes for both can be very lengthy.

“For repeated short-term sickness concerning an individual employee, often you will be waiting for a pattern to emerge before you can take action, and this can be over a prolonged period. Meanwhile, for long-term absence you may need to get a medical report and make reasonable adjustments. before you can address whether the employee is still capable of performing their role. Either way it’s likely to be a lengthy process.

“In terms of sickness absence issues arising as a result of line managers not following procedures correctly, this isn’t as surprising as some may think. Unfortunately, many line managers don’t receive specific training on how to manage people when rising through the ranks. For example, a person may have worked on a production line and been competent at their job, and therefore promoted over time to a Production Line Manager. But being a competent worker and being a competent line manager are very different.

“Line managers need more support on HR processes and procedures to ensure they’re following them correctly, otherwise it’s difficult for a business to suddenly take action if they’ve not done so previously, or to take action with one employee if they’ve let things slide with another employee. A lack of consistency across an organisation when line managers aren’t trained in the correct procedures to follow, can store up issues with precedent setting for the future.”

Research by WorkNest, the employment law, HR consultancy and health and safety support firm, questioned 757 employers on managing sickness absence in April 2023.