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Employers Braced for Sharp Increase in Cold and Flu Absence

Posted by James Arquette on 04/12/15 10:39

Just over 5 million working days* will be lost over December and January with coughs, colds and flus, as employee absence rates sore by up to 125 per cent compared to the rest of the year.

 The figures have been provided by FirstCare, who have been mapping absence trends for 9 years based on the data of 167,000 employees, across the major sectors of the UK economy.

Looking at particular parts of the economy, FirstCare found that coughs, colds and flu (CCF) rates amongst Councils and NHS Trusts – which are estimated to employ a combined total of around 3.2 million people – accounted for the first and third highest sectors, respectively (representing combined public sector losses of around 620,000 work days for the peak absence months of December and January). The construction and engineering sector came in second, whilst the best performing sectors were utilities and food and beverage production.

The data also revealed that Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday are the peak days for CCF absence. This goes against the popular belief that Monday blues is the day with most absence, whereas actually employees have more days absent with CCF during the Midweek (or ‘hump days’).

Whilst the figures are startling, the UK has recently experienced an overall reduction in CCF absence, with the total days lost per employee for 2014 down at 0.60 – a sizeable reduction from 2013 which averaged 0.69 and a further reduction on 2012’s figures. The final statistics for 2015 absence rates will be released in January but already FirstCare has seen a jump on last year’s figures, with this expected to be reflected when the winter figures are compiled.

FirstCare also found that CCF absence rates for women are typically 29% higher than for men during the peak period of December/January (0.11 days absent for each female compared to 0.085 for men), which is a trend that holds throughout the year (with females experiencing on average 16% higher CCF absence rates over the year).

FirstCare’s own nurse-led teams believe that one of the reasons for this ‘gender gap’ is caused by more female contact with children, an assertion supported by advice from the NHS stating:

“Women have more colds than men, and this is probably due to increased interaction with children," according Professor Eccles of the Common Cold Centre in Cardiff. Children get around seven to ten colds a year, compared with two to three for adults.  “So people who spend a lot of time with children, such as child minders, nursery teachers or school teachers, are more likely to pick up the viruses.”**

FirstCare have also tracked the age ranges most susceptible to CCF absences and found that 40 to 50 year olds have the highest absence rates, with women in the most at risk grouping across all groups with 0.17 days absent (broken down as 0.15 and 0.19 days for men and women, respectively). The age groups with the best absence rates were the under 20s and the over 60s.

“The implications of high CCF absence throughout the winter are immense, with increased spending on agency and replacement staff, important work not being completed and a significant cost to the economy,” says James Arquette, FirstCare’s Commercial Director. “Through adopting sensible absence management controls we believe that organisations can see significant reductions in absence. Our own clients have seen reductions of up to 58%, delivering a 546% return on investment and helping to improve operational performance.”

* These figures are based on an eight hour working day and the full time employment level of 22.76m as provided by ONS.

** NHS cold and flu advice can be found at: www.nhs.uk/Livewell/coldsandflu/Pages/Fivefactsaboutcolds.aspx

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