Tackling Long-Term Sickness Absence: The HR View

Long-term sickness absence is a long-term challenge for business
The nature of long-term sickness absence is such that it costs business a lot of money. The costs are associated with days lost to illness and with the recruitment expenses involved in covering the role of someone who is off on leave long-term.

Nobody of course knows the exact figure, but if you take a look at the various HR and employment news websites, plus the broadsheet newspaper reports, the number quoted is in the billions. That is a lot of money – and in many cases a lot of instances where with the right help, people could be back at work sooner.

Add in the fact that people sometimes fall out of work altogether and onto benefits, and the situation begins to look even more serious. These are among the reasons why, in 2011. The government arranged for an independent review into sickness absence. The review – published in November 2011 and entitled “Health at work” – looked at the following areas:

  • The country’s sickness absence system
  • The effects of sickness absence on individuals, employers and the state
  • Prolonging factors relating to time off work due to sickness

Minimising sickness absence
Many employers provide staff benefits such as staff health cover and employee assistance programmes in order to help staff stay healthy and in the case of illness, return to health and work as quickly as possible. Benefits such as health plans are popular with employees too, and are one of the most common employment benefits.

The proposed new independent advisory service will provide employers with

  • Assessment of employees who are off for over a certain amount of time
  • Individual management of employee sickness cases where applicable
  • Universal job matching for staff who may require altered tasks within their role or employment outwith their existing organisation

Causes of long-term sickness
Two of the biggest causes of staff absence due to illness are stress and musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). The latter takes a variety of forms such as back pain and there are some good web resources on managing MSDs, such as the Health & Safety Executive’s sickness absence guidance pages for employers.

The introduction of an in independent assessment and advisory function is aimed at changing patterns of long term sickness absence and hopefully there will be a positive impact for employers in terms of the occupational health support offered by the service.

About the author: Jen Jones writes on behalf of AXA PPP healthcare on a number of workplace wellbeing topics.