How to Prevent the Most Common Causes of Management and Staff Absence Due to Sickness

A staff absence can be bad. A management absence can be even worse. We found proven ways you can stop both before they happen.

One of the things I love about freelance writing is the ability to set my work schedule.

On the flipside, if I miss a day or several days of work I’m in a considerably less secure position than some of my office-bound counterparts.

Very rarely do I stop working when I’m sick

While I can’t speak for all freelance writers, I will say that very rarely do I stop working when I’m sick.

That’s not my way of saying I work harder nor that I’m the only one who understands what it feels like to work when sick.

On the contrary, I do it because I have to meet certain deadlines, take on last minute projects, and seek out new opportunities, sick or not.

Most importantly, it’s shown me how important sickness absence management is for not only self-employed freelancers but also other types of work environments in private and public sectors.

Sickness Absence Management

Whether you’re an entrepreneur, executive, or HR manager you understand why sickness absence management is a problem for your organization.

No one wants to be sick but the truth of the matter is that managers are only human and they – like staff – get sick now and then.

Managers might be more cautious about their health, aware of their sick symptoms, and equipped with a stash of OTC medications and supplements for a faster recovery because of their added level of responsibility in short- and long-term business operations.

Given that not everyone practices preventative measures for sickness on their own — which can significantly reduce sick leave time or put an end to stress-induced illness — the task for HR managers, entrepreneurs, and executives is to understand how to improve occupational health and prevention methods for the most common causes of sickness absence.

Sprains, Strains, and Tears

According to information gathered by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2014, sprains, strains, and tears accounted for 420,870 sick days.

In 2010, the rate of sprains, strains, and tears was 46.9 cases per 10,000 full-time workers.

In 2014, the rate fell to 38.9 cases per 10,000 full-time workers.

Most of the incidents (43%) in 2010 were a result of staff overexerting themselves and 36% led to back injuries.

By 2014, injuries related to sprains, strains, or tears required a median of 10 sick days whereas fractures required an average of 32 sick days.

Sprains, strains, and tears accounted for 420,870 sick days

Although you might not encounter many absences due to sprains, strains, or tears, it is worth noting that the manufacturing industry leads in frequency and severity of these types of injuries.

22% of these injuries were due to overexertion in lifting or lowering.

Another 12% was due to a one-level fall, 7% to slips or trips without a fall, 4% for violence, and 52% for other reasons.

Ergonomic controls offer one way to reduce sick leave due to sprains, strains, or tears.

These “engineering controls” can lessen some awkward postures with modifications to maintain joint range of motion and allow staff to have the best joint positions.

As the “one-in-charge,” you want to make sure your company provides an adequate amount of breaks for rest and recovery.

You can also implement a job rotation schedule or a stable work practice system to alleviate the overall risk of injury in the workplace.

Musculoskeletal Disorders

The second most common cause of staff and management absence due to sickness are musculoskeletal injuries and illnesses, which account for about 29% of all workplace injuries and cost $15,000 on average.

A musculoskeletal injury range from a pinched nerve, herniated disc, meniscus tear, hernia, to pain, swelling, and carpal tunnel syndrome (for a complete list of musculoskeletal-related injuries click here).

The rate of musculoskeletal injuries hasn’t changed since 2009, but it has increased slightly.

As you can imagine, most musculoskeletal injuries deal with the back, which had a median of 7 days away from work for all occupations.

So how can you avoid them?

According to a recent study by Occupational Medicine, educational interventions make little to no difference in the rate of musculoskeletal injuries.

However, musculoskeletal injuries did decrease with a comprehensive intervention method that combined ergonomic and clinical components.

Some of the most efficient interventions included ergonomic and clinical evaluations for employees every couple of months.

An ergonomic assessment can be used to identify MSD risk factors, and clinical assessments can make your overall MSD intervention methods more thorough and complete.

The most efficient way to reduce sickness absence due to an MSD injury is to implement a comprehensive prevention plan that incorporates both ergonomic strategies and early intervention.

Pre-shift stretching program – efficient ergonomic strategy

A good, simple, and efficient ergonomic strategy could be a simple pre-shift stretching program.

Seriously, a few minutes of yoga, meditation, or general relaxation could greatly enhance the physical and mental wellbeing of your office.

You’ll want to provide some training and education along with your chosen ergonomic program so that employees and management understand how it can prevent MSD-related injuries.

The Rapid Entire Body Assessment (REBA) is a tool used to evaluate whole body postural MSD and ergonomic risks.

The REBA will score wrists, forearms, elbows, shoulders, neck, trunk, back, legs, and knees to show areas that pose the highest ergonomic risk.

Over time, fatigue can turn into eventual musculoskeletal disorders

A proactive plan will also encourage employees to report symptoms of fatigue as soon as possible.

Over time, fatigue can turn into discomfort, pain, loss of function, and eventual musculoskeletal disorders.

In fact, early warning signs of MSDs can show up 2-3 years before they develop, so it’s especially important to give employees access to self-reporting systems and injury prevention resources on body mechanics, posture, fatigue recovery, diet and hydration, and personal fitness.


An Absence Management Survey conducted by the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIDP) in 2010, showed that stress is among the top five most common causes for short- and long-term sickness absence.

For non-manual occupations, stress was the cause for 55% of short-term absences and 63% of long-term absences in the UK.

Stress was the cause for 63% of long-term absences

The study found that stress was most often due to heavy workloads (51%), external relationships (49%), organizational changes (39%), management styles (38%), and relationships at work (30%).

Other sources of stress include pressure to meet deadlines or targets, lack of staff support from management, job insecurity, and financial concerns.

88% of organizations with more than 5,000 staff had already taken steps to reduce workplace stress, compared to not even 50% of employers with a staff of 50 or less.

If you don’t already have a stress prevention program, I can’t emphasise how important it is that you get started on one now because the sooner your management and staff can return to work, the more productive and happy your organization will be in the long run.

Nearly 70% of employers use staff surveys to identify and reduce stress in the workplace, and 62% offer flexible working options or other means to improve work-life balance.

Other methods include training for management and staff, stress audits, stress policies, occupational health specialists, and employee assistance programs.

Stress is one of the leading causes of short- and long-term sickness absence

Perhaps stress is one of the leading causes of short- and long-term sickness absence because staff and management absence can increase workloads, pressure to meet deadlines, among many other problems for co-workers.

Implementing the Bradford system can also reduce the overall level of work related stress by rewarding employees for good attendance and identifying areas that may call for improved stress prevention methods.

And given that fewer than half of employers monitor the cost of sickness absence and only 23% of businesses introduced the Bradford trigger system to track absences, we might want to reassess our absence policy sooner than later.

Minor Illnesses

Minor illnesses (colds, flu, stomach upsets, headaches, and migraines) were also among the highest causes of short-term absences according to the CIPD.

For manual occupations, 80% of short-term absences were due to minor illnesses for manual trades, while 87% of short-term absences were due to minor illnesses for the non-manual professions.

In fact, one million workers take time off because of sickness every week in the UK alone.

Minor illnesses were also among the highest causes of short-term absences

To counteract the common cold, flu, stomach virus, and migraine, your business should promote healthy lifestyles by encouraging your workers to reap rewards for having low absence rates, which you can easily track with the Bradford factor calculator on Cake HR’s absence management software.

Some other effective strategies to promote a healthy lifestyle might include offering free gym membership perks, having an on-site gym facility, or starting a running club to boost employee motivation.

Mental ill-Health

Mental ill-health is often stress-induced and may lead to depression and anxiety.

In 2013, 15.2 million sick days were due to mental ill-health, which excludes more severe mental health problems such as manic depression and schizophrenia.

One study found that mental ill-health absences were due to long hours, work overloads and increased pressures, and the effects of these on personal lives; lack of control over work, lack of participation in decision-making, poor social support, and unclear management and work roles.

In 2013, 15.2 million sick days were due to mental ill-health

Some of the successful interventions to improve mental-ill health absences included increased participation in decision-making and problem-solving, greater support and feedback for staff and management, improved communication, and overall improved management style.

By implementing prevention programs for mental-ill health, you can reduce long term sick pay and time to return to work, as mental-ill health absences profoundly impact these areas of an organization.

Get started with Cake HR’s absence management software and introduce the Bradford trigger system into your absence policy for free.



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Matt Wuerch is a freelance writer and contributor on CakeHR, where he discovers trends in HR. His eclectic tastes fuel his passion for innovation in academia, e-commerce, and B2B endeavors. He strives to inform and entertain through a mixture of personal and professional knowledge in his writing.

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