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Investigating Reasons for Absence

By: J.A.J Aaronson - Updated: 4 Mar 2013 | comments*Discuss
Investigating Reasons For Absence

The management of employees' absence should be a priority for any employer. The health of your workforce is, clearly, of paramount importance; a healthy workforce tends to be more productive, and a reduction in sickness absence has the potential to save a company a significant amount of money every year.

The effective management of sick leave is therefore particularly important. At the heart of this management process is an investigation and analysis of the key reasons for sickness absence. Looking at why employees call in sick is particularly important, as it enables employers to address the primary reasons for absence and therefore develop strategies for reducing sick leave and increasing productivity.


Helpfully, there is an internationally recognised classification for sickness related absence. Any absence or health management scheme should begin by looking at this classification, as it provides a concise overview of the most common health problems faced by employees.

It is known as the International Classification of Diseases 9, or ICD9, and lists seventeen main reasons given by employees for their absence.

ICD9 is useful for a variety of reasons. In the first instance, it gives a breakdown of almost every category of illness that could be suffered by an employee. This can be put to a number of uses; if you are developing a health assessment scheme, for example, you may use ICD9 as a reference to ensure that assessments are covering all of the main bases.

Furthermore, ICD9 can be used to pre-empt sick leave problems. Figures are available showing the likelihood of an employee contracting an illness that falls into one of the seventeen categories, and from these it is possible to roughly predict how much sickness absence your company will suffer each year.

Annual Averages

Some organisations have also published figures that show the average number of days taken off by employees suffering from a disease related to each of the seventeen categories. At the top of this list is cancers, referred to as neoplasms in ICD9. Employees who contract cancer take, on average, around 35 sick days per year.

The next category in the list, in terms of average number of days of absence, is 'mental disorders'. The primary complaint in this category is work-related stress. This has only recently become a recognised complaint; previously, many employers failed to recognise the very real problems posed by stress related complaints, and the concurrent risks to their businesses.

Today, however, more employers are providing strategies to help their employees deal with the stresses and strains of employment and their personal lives. This is mutually beneficial; it offers the employee an easily accessible outlet for their concerns, while minimising the cost of absence to the employer.

While national averages are available, the reasons for absence will vary on an employer-by-employer basis. As such, you may wish to consider surveying employees who call in sick. Make a note of their reasons for absence, and collate the results at the end of a certain period.

This will enable you to develop effective strategies for absence management, and will ensure that your efforts in this field are as effective as they possibly can be.

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