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Key takeaways from CIPD ACE: Absence, employee character & AI

16 November 2023 6 min read


The team at edays exhibited at the CIPD Annual Conference and Exhibition 2023 last week, and as well as meeting lots of fantastic people and companies, we also enjoyed attending plenty of insightful talks from industry leaders.

In this blog, we’re looking at some of the key themes and talking points that emerged from CIPD ACE this year.

Workplace absence is at a ten-year high

The latest Health and wellbeing at work report by CIPD and SimplyHealth shows that workplace absence in the UK is now at its highest for ten years.

In a talk delivered by CIPD, the stats were laid bare – each employee takes an average of 7.8 days off sick per year, increasing from 5.8 days in 2019. The sickness rate remains higher in the public sector at 10.6 days, versus 5.8 days in the private sector.

Mental health and musculoskeletal issues are among the top causes of both short and long-term workplace absences, with poor mental health accounting for 63% of all long-term absences.

What’s causing an increase in workplace absence?

Many issues are cited as contributing to higher absence rates, including the cost of living crisis, increasing NHS waiting lists, global conflicts, and an aging workforce among other factors.

The CIPD’s report shows that absence from work is higher in older age groups compared with younger generations. Given that people are working and living for longer, it’s unsurprising to see an aging workforce experience more illnesses and medical conditions that require time away from work.

The knowledge and experience that these workers provide, however, shouldn’t be overlooked – so investing in employee health and wellbeing benefits that are of value to workers in older age groups is worthy of consideration.

According to the report, nearly half of organisations now include some provision for menopause transition, and nearly a quarter have a standalone menopause policy. Meanwhile, less than a third (32%) of organisations include some provision for men’s health issues ‘to a large or moderate extent’.

The shift to remote and hybrid working could also be having an impact on increasing absence rates. With more people working from home, the lines between work and home life become blurred. Employees may in fact work longer hours because the boundaries between their professional and personal spaces are less defined, making it hard to ‘switch off’ from work at the end of the day. Working longer hours could therefore be causing increases in stress, burnout and sickness – increasing absences as a result.

Stress-related absences are another significant factor, which account for just over a quarter (26%) of all short-term absences and 37% of all long-term absences. When surveying the primary cause of that stress, 67% of employees attributed it to heavy workloads, followed by 37% stating ‘management style’. A lack of support coming from people managers, however that might look in organisations and individual circumstances, is seemingly having an impact and causing higher levels of absence for many.

AI dominates the HR headlines

As you might expect, AI was a hot topic at CIPD ACE this year. It’s clear that the full scope of what’s capable for HR through the use of AI solutions are still somewhat unknown or misunderstood by many.

Many talks at CIPD emphasized the opportunities that AI brings to HR leaders and organisations rather than the threats, and focused on how to use it creatively in many areas of a business from recruitment and hiring, to employee experience and workforce management.

What’s more, AI can be seen as a valuable tool that will assist with traditionally resource-heavy processes, repetitive or mundane tasks, and the creation of HR-related content and documentation.

A recent survey found that 76% of HR leaders believe that if their organisation does not adopt AI solutions in the next 12 to 24 months, their organisational success will fall behind those that do. Though many of left feeling apprehensive, there’s no doubt that huge transformation is coming.

Focusing on employee character is an untapped opportunity

Many discussions highlighted the opportunity that organisations have to focus on employee character in order to maximise efficiency, growth and innovation.

It means looking an individual’s strengths and tailoring a role so that it suits those strengths, rather than finding the right candidate for a static, pre-determined role.

It also means assessing people’s personalities and character traits, to determine how they work best, and with whom. By doing so, organisations can create groups of people who excel at working together on particular tasks, under the supervision of a line manager who knows the exact makeup of their team and how to best deploy resource to meet objectives.

Organisations are also encouraged to create workplace cultures where employees feel comfortable bringing ‘their whole selves’ to work, and regularly checking in to see how they are doing. This enables greater flexibility, giving people the space to talk through any issues and providing the right support or making reasonable adjustments where possible. This way, employees are supported to do their best work open and supportive environments – helping to reduce instances of absence and employee turnover.

Looking out for managers’ wellbeing is paramount

The importance of providing support, training and guidance to people managers was a topic that was stressed over and over again at many of the talks at CIPD ACE this year.

When juggling day-to-day duties, organisational objectives and targets, and managing a team of people (including their mental health, absences, leave, professional growth, performance reviews and much more), it’s no wonder that line managers are feeling under pressure to deliver at every turn.

Though not medical experts, people managers are often the ones dealing with absence management in an organisation – managing short-term absence in 70% of organisations and long-term absence in 61%.

Despite this, people managers are not always provided with the training, skills and confidence to be able to manage absence, mental health and other issues amongst their team members. For example, less than half (42%) of organisations have trained line managers to support people in relation to mental health according to CIPD’s latest report, and according to WorkNest, managers spend a minimum of 3 hours per week on employee relations issues.

Given that management style is also one of the leading causes of stress-related absence, it’s vital that organisations do what they can to train, support and empower their people managers in matters relating to the health and wellbeing of their employees.

Absence management with edays

Alleviating the admin-burden of managing absence is simple. With edays, easily record and log employee absence and gain valuable insight into how absence is impacting your organisation. Our in-depth absence reporting tool gives you the ability to drill down into your data, so you can spot trends and identify areas of your organisation that may be in need of support. Click here to book a personalised demo.

Georgina at edays
November 16, 2023

Georgina Mackintosh is an accomplished copywriter and marketing professional with a background that spans several industries. Her writing focuses on HR topics such as employee wellbeing, engagement and experience - as well as absence management best practice, how-to guides and news from the HR sector.