Does reducing absence really create savings?

20 August 2009
According to this story from our sister magazine People Management the NHS could save billions if it reduced the amount of time people took off sick. An interim government report out this week found average absence in the health organisation was 10.7 days, compared to 9.7 days in the public sector and 6.4 days in the private sector. Steve Boorman, who conducted the study, said the organisation would save half a billion pounds if sickness could be reduced to the equivalent rate in the private sector. Trade union UNISON have argued comparing NHS absence with other sectors is like “comparing apples and oranges”, with a greater risk of illness and infection simply from the work being carried out. But does less time off for employees translate into genuine savings? If you have to pay other staff or obtain cover for positions in their absence, it certainly would. But, as those of you currently covering for your colleagues while they are off for the summer will understand, often their work is just covered by somebody else in the meantime. Those employees will clearly have more work to do, but is it just a case of “Parkinson’s law”, where work expands to fill the time available for completion? Reducing staff absence should be a goal of any firm, but accompanying it with an effective calculation of employee productivity might reveal the true saving.
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