Almost a quarter (24 per cent) of small business owners have seen employee absence levels increase in the last year, according to a new report.

The Close Brothers Business Barometer, which canvasses the opinion of UK SME owners from a broad selection of sectors on a quarterly basis, also revealed more than a third of respondents feel their business has an issue with employees abusing sick leave.

Two-thirds of employers surveyed cited minor illnesses such as flu to be the primary cause of staff absence, along with post-operative recovery periods.

Mike Randall, CEO of Close Brothers Asset Finance, believes that while the majority of sick leave taken is still genuine, absenteeism is an emerging issue for many UK businesses, and if not controlled properly, could have repercussions on productivity levels.

"Our research suggests that a considerable number of employers are concerned about the level of non-genuine sickness within their organisation," said Randall.

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"In the current climate, many workplaces are already stretched and employers are aware that they have a responsibility to protect their staff from undue stress.

"That is why it is important that unauthorised absence is managed consistently and fairly to help minimise the impact on the wider workforce and ensure diligent colleagues aren't left to pick up the slack on a regular basis."

The Business Barometer commented that the 'fit note', which was introduced by the Government in an effort to reduce the cost of employee absenteeism, has not worked as hoped. One-in-five of employers surveyed believed the scheme had not lived up to expectations.

"Managing staff absence can seem like a daunting task, but it's too important to ignore. A carefully implemented absence policy could help improve productivity, boost staff morale and protect your bottom line," added Randall.

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