Health & Safety

Benchmarking sickness absence: How do you compare?

person working on laptop

Let’s try a little exercise. Open up your HR software or your attendance spreadsheet, and calculate the average rate of sickness absence across your workforce over the last 12 months. What number did you come up with?


Knowing how you perform compared with other businesses is a good way of identifying areas for improvement. This is called “benchmarking”, and today we want to help you with benchmarking your sickness absence.

What is the national average sickness absence in the UK?


In 2016, XpertHR conducted a survey with more than 600 companies, covering over 1.5 million employees. This survey looked at average sickness absence rates for companies in the UK, based on data from the previous year.


Take a look at the averages below, and see how you compare:


Average sickness absence rate UK: 2.6%


I’ve used the median sickness absence rate, instead of the mean average. Don’t worry if you’re not a statistician – this basically just means I’ve used the average that cuts any unusually high or low results out of the equation.

How to calculate your average sickness absences


Calculating your average sickness absence for one employee – or indeed your whole organisation – is fairly straightforward. All you need to do is:


1, Add up the total working days

2, Add up the total days taken as sickness absence

3, Divide sickness absence days by total working days

4, Multiply this figure by 100

5, This is your percentage!


So, how do you compare?

Absence statistics vary – drill down deeper


Comparing yourself against a national average is one way to find out if you might have an absence problem. But it’s not always the best comparison, because sickness absence varies greatly depending on things like company size and industry.


We can see examples of this by looking back at XpertHR’s survey:


 * Median sickness absence for public sector7%

 * Median sickness absence for private sector: 2.2%


This variation splits down even further when you look at specific industries. For example, the median time lost to sickness absence for the retail industry is only 1.8%, whereas the public health industry has a sky high median of 4.2%.


Unsurprisingly, the bigger your company is, the worse your absence levels get:


 * Less than 100 employees: 1.8%

 * 100-249 employees: 2.3%

 * 250-999 employees: 2.8%

 * 1,000+ employees: 3.7%

Dynamic benchmarking to help you improve


There’s something we do here at People® to help our customers improve their performance, and we call it Competitor Benchmarking. It’s part of how we provide expert advice and insights through our HR software.


How this works, is our software measures your metrics against similar companies to yours. From within your dashboard, you get access to insights telling you how you’re performing in comparison.


For example, you might discover that you’re doing really well on sickness absence and salary, but that you’re struggling a little with turnover. And it’s insights like these that can guide your next important action.


If you don’t use HR software with this kind of functionality, then we recommend regularly comparing key metrics against national averages at the very least. It can help you to understand where you can apply strategic thinking to support your organisation’s success the most.