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These newly published statistics come from our annual review of absence, which is based on the period 1 January 2017 to 31 December 2017 and covers 33,049 employees in 203 manufacturing companies.

The gradual decline in sickness absence over the past two years is a positive sign for manufacturing.  Unplanned time-off from work by employees is something companies strive to minimise, as it can be costly and disruptive, not only in terms of production, sick pay and temporary cover, but also for the morale of the rest of the workforce.

Whilst absence is a fact of life for companies, knowing the industry averages for attendance and comparing these to their own data, means manufacturers can assess and address any absence issues before they become a major concern.

Our detailed benchmark on sickness absence also provides information on the absence rates across the workforce broken down by employee type, as well as examining absence by sector, company size and region.  Here are just a few of the trends for 2017:

  • The absence rate for all employees was 2.2%
  • The manual absence rate remained unchanged from 2016, at 2.7%, but was more than double the rate seen for non-manual employees, at 1.3%


  • There appears to be a positive correlation between the level of absence and the size of companies.  The smallest firms (1-50) had an average of 3.7 days absent per employee, whereas those with more than 500 employees experienced an average absence of 7.3 days per worker
  • The manufacturing sectors had similar rates of absence, but Metals and Machinery both outdid the rest, with absence rates of 2.1%
  • Regionally there were wide variances, the North East had the highest absence at 3.1% which is close to double the rate in best performing region - the East Midlands – where absence was 1.7%

Leigh Freeman, Senior HR Consultant

It is encouraging to see the rate of absence in our members’ organisations is decreasing, yet the cost of absence represents an annual loss of hundreds of thousands of pounds in lost revenue to UK businesses every year. Absence has huge implications for organisations and is an area we all have to deal with. So how do we do this effectively?

To manage absence effectively organisations require a capability policy, which specifically talks about short and long term absence. Dealing with short term absence can be totally different to the approach taken to manage long term illnesses. An individual’s ability to attend work should not be treated as misconduct through a disciplinary policy.

A well written capability policy will outline the organisations approach to handling absence, it will detail the organisations expectation of its employees and provide a clear procedure that both should follow. There will be “trigger levels” which will describe the procedure taken and the possible cautions that could be issued to those with certain levels of absence. Although this can be seen as similar to a disciplinary procedure there will be an emphasis on supportive measures such as a referral to occupational health.

Implementing a culture of support as opposed to disciplinary is fundamental to the successful application of a capability policy, although ultimately difficult decisions and conversations may need to happen as it becomes apparent employees are no longer able to do the job they were originally employed to do.

Having difficult conversations

Part of managing absence is holding absence review meetings with employees and these meetings can at times be difficult for the manager leading the discussion and also the employee returning to work. Knowing what you can and can’t say can be a tricky area for some, this is a very emotive subject so approaching these meetings in the right way has an impact on employee relations throughout the organisation. The information gathered in these meetings will form part of the evidence required should this progress to a capability dismissal further down the line, so it is important that we get it right at this stage. Managers need to be trained to conduct these meetings with the right level of empathy, whilst still applying the correct company procedure.

Wellbeing programme

To provide a balanced approach when implementing a capability policy a wellbeing programme encourages a supportive culture. This is becoming an important proactive offering especially in manufacturing where were are experiencing an aging workforce, talent management and succession planning approaches all work well together. Activities such as annual health checks for all employees give employers the information they require to plan accordingly and work in partnership with the occupational health provider.