While catching up on the latest absence management news from around the world, we came across an article in localgov.co.uk entitled ‘tackling absence management in local government’, which caught our eye. The article referenced the CIPD Absence Management Report 2015 and sought to highlight that public sector sickness absence is now 50% higher than in the private sector.
At ReducingAbsence.com we know that there are a wide variety of reasons behind differences in sickness absence rates, so we are always extremely skeptical of headlines that contain such sweeping generalisations. The fault isn’t with the survey itself, if you read the CIPD report in full, you will very quickly find a variety of factors that may be impacting on the reported top level figures, such as relative size of organisation. The issue, is in various commentators over simplifying the findings. We know, as do our clients, that jumping to conclusions without first doing meaningful organisation specific research, will not bring about sustainable solutions.
Even if we just take that single simple issue of organisation size, most people would accept that large organisations face different challenges to small organisations in terms of successfully managing absence. Issues such as span of management control, employee buy-in, policy compliance, are all factors that impact differently on large organisations in comparison to small organisations. Since most public sector bodies are relatively large employers, whilst most respondents to the CIPD survey are small organisations of less than 250 people, it is entirely possible that the reason for such a stark difference in sickness absence rates is at least partially due to relative organisational size. Whilst this years survey from the CIPD doesn’t give the figures in table form, previous iterations of the report have set out measures of relative size of organisation against sickness rates and this did demonstrate that the public sector and the private sector are much more closely aligned than is often reported.
Ultimately, there are likely to be differences in absence rates between various sectors, but the reasons behind these will be many and varied. Simply concluding that public sector is bad at managing absence, whilst the private sector is good, is a significant over-simplification regardless of what the top level figures may suggest. What matters is that all organisations, regardless of sector, make sure that they understand all of the factors that are impacting on their absence rate and how those factors inter-relate, so they can build bespoke sustainable solutions.