Employers torn between head and heart on long term absence

Article date: 29 March 2011

  •  50% of employers consider long term absence to be an issue for their business
  • 34% worry about how they would balance obligations to employees whilst managing the business

New research1 from Aviva UK Health has revealed how business owners feel torn between their emotions and business duties when dealing with employees on long term leave of absence.

Nearly half of employers (50%) questioned in the 360 degree study consider long term sick leave to be an issue for their business with 27% admitting it gives them a major staffing headache. But despite the impact staff sickness may have on a business, the research showed employers also feel the strain emotionally.

The modern day employer is tasked with managing more complex illnesses in the workplace. While musculoskeletal problems still heavily contribute to work absence (27%), many companies now have to deal with highly emotive conditions such as cancer (19%), mental health issues (30%) and drink and drug related issues (16%). In addition  nearly one in five employers (16%) have experienced staff with heart problems. 

While traditional business pressures remain - with just over a third (34%) stating that they were concerned how to balance legal obligations to the employee whilst managing the business, employers increasingly face emotional challenges. Over half (61%) of employers say their primary concern when an employee goes on long term absence is the health and wellbeing of the employee. A further 23% are  anxious about the pressure this absence would put on other employees’ workloads.

Survival rates from conditions such as cancer are improving and many employees are eager to return to the normality of the office. Yet, nearly one in five (17%) employers admitted when dealing with someone with a potentially life threatening condition, they would find it even harder to manage the needs of business and their duty of care to the employee. 14% said they would be anxious about finding a way to deal with the employee without upsetting them. 

Steve Bridger, Head of Group Risk at Aviva UK Health says: “The Government’s recent decision to commission David Frost and Dame Carol Black to conduct an independent review of the sickness absence system is long overdue. Our research clearly shows that many companies are affected by long-term sickness absence. Employees need care and consideration when they are unwell but, crucially they also need expert physical and psychological support to help them return to, and stay in work. 

“The key to successful absence management is about prevention as well as treating problems once they arise. At Aviva we are constantly working with our group risk customers to understand what’s driving their sickness absence rates. Through this we can help them put in place solutions that offer their employees the support they need while helping to drive down absence rates.

“Our group income protection for example, offers employers financial support and enables employees to access a wide range of rehabilitation support to help speed their recovery and return to work. When complemented with occupational health services and additional insurances to encourage employees to lead a healthy lifestyle and aid early intervention, the benefits to both the employer and employee can increase significantly.”


If you are a journalist and would like further information, please contact:

Amber Chable: Aviva Press Office : (023 80 359 383) amber.chable@aviva.co.ukl


1 All statistics are from a nationwide survey of 1,000 British adult employees and 688 employers, carried out for Aviva by market researchers OnePoll. The opinion poll was hosted online at www.OnePoll.com between the 8th and 14th March 2011 and was available to its registered members.

Notes to editors:

Aviva is one of the world's largest insurance groups* with 53 million customers worldwide and 46,000 employees.

Aviva’s main activities are long-term savings, fund management and general insurance, with worldwide total sales of £45.1 billion and funds under management of £379 billion*.

In the UK, Aviva takes care of its 19.2 million customers by helping them look after their future, protecting what’s important – from their health to their homes, their cars to their business – and saving for the future.

Aviva has a 10.5%** share of the UK life and pensions market and insures one in six homes and one in ten cars in the UK. It is also one of the oldest UK insurers, with a heritage stretching back more than 300 years.

RAC, which is owned by Aviva, provides breakdown and insurance services for individuals and businesses and has around seven million customers.

Aviva is carbon neutral worldwide, and is ranked in the top 10% of socially responsible companies globally by the Dow Jones Sustainability World Index. In the UK, Aviva invested £3.8 million into local communities in 2009. Read our corporate responsibility report at www.aviva.com/corporate-responsibility/.

Aviva’s global Street to School programme is working in partnership with Railway Children in the UK to get children living on the streets back into education and everyday life. Find out more at www.aviva.co.uk/street-to-school.

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*based on gross worldwide premiums at 31 December 2009

**Source: ABI data released August 2010

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