Company profile

  • No. of employees: 22,000
  • Business sector: Aerospace and defence (FTSE-listed company)
  • Business activities: Engineering and manufacturing
  • Location: UK-wide
  • Stakeholders: Employees, company, shareholders

The challenge

Rolls-Royce plc employs around 22,000 staff in aerospace, defence, marine and energy divisions. A new sickness absence management policy has benefited employees and the company by reducing absence and costs. Before the initiative staff sickness absence levels varied from around 3%-9%. Rolls- Royce calculated that if it could reduce absence levels by 10% it would make significant savings.

What did the company do?

Rolls-Royce developed an effective sickness absence management programme including:

Business benefits

Health and safety benefits

The ability to analyse the causes of staff absence accurately.

'Companies should adopt absence management policies. They are a positive contribution to help people return to work as soon as is reasonable and they help to significantly reduce costs incurred by avoidable absence. This initiative has had a positive effect on both the businesses and individuals by enhancing mutual respect and reducing absence.'

John Rivers, Director, Human Resources

Cost benefits

One staff month was spent developing the policy and procedures, at a cost of approximately £7,800. Briefing managers and HR specialists on the new procedures cost about £200,000 in time. The IT programme was part of a wider IT initiative, and so there was no cost to the project. The time managers spend managing staff absence is largely the same as before the initiative, but is used earlier in the absence. The same is true for the occupational health service.

In the first year of the initiative, about 191,000 work days were lost through sickness absence. This cost Rolls-Royce around £71.7 million (direct and indirect costs).

By reducing absence by about 15%, the company has saved approximately £11 million. This outweighs the one-off costs incurred at the start of the project.


The Human Resources Director and the Board-level health, safety and environment committee gave their full support and authority to the Chief Medical Officer to plan and implement the new policies.

Worker involvement

Trade union representatives from a number of different unions were consulted over the proposed procedures at the planning stage. All staff were trained on the new policies and procedures.

Updated 2021-08-03