How to manage sickness absence in a small business

28 October 2019

Sickness absence affects all businesses, regardless of their size. However, small businesses may feel the negative effects of sickness absence more acutely than a large business due to their limited resource. In an SME, when a key member of the team is off work due to ill health, it can have a big impact on the rest of the team and on the business as a whole.

According to data from the Office for National Statistics, 131.2 million working days were lost in 2017 due to sickness absence. Of these, 34.3 million were due to minor illnesses such as coughs and colds and 28.2 million were due to musculoskeletal problems (issues affecting the bones, muscles and joints)1. However, despite this, more than half (55%) of business owners don’t know or don’t record the percentage of payroll represented by sickness absence cost per annum2. This means that many SME owners may be unaware of the true cost that sickness absence could be having on their business.

The cost of sickness absence for SMEs

There can be a number of direct and indirect costs associated with employee sickness absence for SMEs. These can include:

  • The monetary cost of paying the team member while they’re unable to work due to ill health in accordance with your sick pay policy 
  • The recruitment costs that can be associated with hiring a temporary replacement for the team member while they’re not able to work
  • Other members of your team having to pick up on the workload of the employee who is off sick, meaning that they may have less time to focus on their own tasks
  • There may also be a risk to the customer/client relationships that the employee in question has built up, particularly if a replacement for the team member can’t be found in the interim 
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How can sickness absence be reduced?

While employee sickness absence can sometimes be unavoidable, there are actions that business owners can take in order to invest in the health and wellbeing of their team. These include:

  • Conduct a review of the workplace culture within your business. Look out for signs that may indicate that employees may be struggling with work-life balance. Are people still sitting at their desks long into the evening when they should have left at 5pm? Do you notice that your team regularly sit and eat lunch in front of their computer rather than going outside and getting some fresh air?
  • If your business allows for it, you could give your employees the opportunity to flex their working hours if they’d like to, so they can fit their gym session in before work or pick their children up from school. They may also appreciate being able to work from home where they may find that they are more productive being free from the distractions that office working can bring
  • You could consider offering private healthcare cover to your team. Private health insurance can help to get you and your team back to work quickly through prompt access to diagnosis and treatment. Your team would be able to avoid the NHS waiting lists and receive eligible treatment at a time and place that suits them, minimising the impact that it can have on their work and personal life.
  • Ensure that you’re monitoring sickness absence levels within your business. This can help you to see if there are any patterns in absences, and can also help you to identify whether there are any members of your team who may be struggling with their health and wellbeing so you can help them to get the support that they may need
  • If someone in your team is on long-term sick leave, it’s important to ensure that you remain in regular contact with them, handled sensitively. This can help to reinforce to them that you’re on their side and are there to help support them through it. Ensuring that you stay in regular contact with them while they’re off can also help to make their return to work feel less daunting, as they’ll still feel like they’re a valued part of the team    

AXA PPP healthcare small business health insurance

At AXA PPP healthcare, our small business health insurance aims to get you and your team back to work quickly through prompt access to diagnosis and eligible treatment. Your team can avoid NHS waiting lists and be seen quickly, at a time and place that suits them. 

All of our small business health insurance plans come with the following as standard:

  • Unlimited access to our online GP service, Doctor@Hand* (provided by Doctor Care Anywhere). With Doctor@Hand, you and your team can get a 20 minute online or phone appointment with a GP 24/7, 365 days a year**. They can even have their prescription delivered straight to their door if they’d like to, so they don’t have to take time out of their day to visit a chemist***
  • Working Body service – Should you or your team suffer from a bone, muscle or joint problem, you can speak to a physiotherapist over the phone without the need for a GP referral via our Working Body service. They’ll assess the symptoms, talk about what they could mean and help to plan next steps. Working Body is available to members aged 18 and over
  • Health at Hand health information telephone helpline – Whether you’re struggling with stress at work or in your personal life, or you have a health concern that’s keeping you awake at night. Our team of nurses, counsellors, midwives and pharmacists are on hand to help put your mind at ease. Nurses and counsellors available 24/7, midwives and pharmacists available from 8am – 8pm Monday to Friday, 8am – 4pm Saturdays and 8am – 12pm Sundays.

Find out more about our small business health insurance, including what we do and don’t cover, and get a quote today.

*Fair usage policy applies

**Subject to appointment availability

***Outpatient drugs are not covered by your plan. Private prescriptions may cost more.

Sources and references

1Office for National Statistics, 2017

2Employee Benefits, 2018

Small business health insurance experts

Start taking care of yourself and your team today and get a quote for our business health insurance. Or, talk to us about how we can help your business reach their wellbeing goals.