7 October 2013 14:27

A collaborative research project launched by Lancaster University aims to predict when workers will phone in sick.

The work, which is being conducted as part of a Knowledge Transfer Partnership with Stafford-based company Business Safety Systems, will result in new models that employers can use to better predict and manage absenteeism in the workplace.

By using cutting-edge statistical methods, academics from Lancaster University will look to develop a method of accurately analysing characteristics and patterns in data, both within large population groups and at an individual level.

Dr Peter Neal from Lancaster University said: “We know that by looking at population groups there are key events that can cause greater absenteeism – such as during large sporting events, during a flu outbreak or when there is particularly severe bad weather. The modelling of data will allow us to quantify this affect.

“At an individual level, we will be able to identify workers with unusual absence patterns which can inform managers of where to invest attention.”

The models that will be developed on the back of the research should enable managers to work out contingencies for staffing levels during predicted episodes of increased absenteeism.

It will also help them to intervene at an earlier level to work with staff who could potentially end up taking long periods of sick leave.

Dr Neal said: “The main thing is companies will have a better understanding of likely absenteeism and the measures needed to cope. For example, for a bus company it is important to have drivers for all routes and hence it is probably necessary to rota on spare drivers to cover absence. However, you don't want a lot of people do nothing, so you want to have a good idea of how many spare drivers are going to be needed and how this varies through the year.

“At an individual level, identifying skivers may be popular with businesses but the main benefit will be to help detect those at risk of going off long-term sick through stress or injury, which is beneficial to both employer and employee.”

The two-year project, which is being launched in October, has been funded by more than £136,000 – two thirds of which is from the Technology Strategy Board.

Business Safety Systems, who are a risk management consultancy, have part-funded the research and will be providing the data, which needs to be collected legally, to create absenteeism modelling software.

Business Safety Systems will be able to offer prediction modelling software to clients at the end of the research project.

Neil Shotton from Business Safety Systems said: “We are thrilled that we are able to connect our business creativity with the technical skills from Lancaster.

“We are hoping that our results will allow employers to cut the costs and mitigate the consequences of sickness absence. Our goal is to have a product that informs real-time management decisions that will help achieve these aims.”

Companies that would like to participate in the research can contact neil.shotton@business-safety.com