Monitoring Absence At Work Does Not Increase It

AbsenceThere has been a lot of coverage recently about getting sick people back to work. It is a big issue for most businesses – and the Government takes the loss of productivity caused by absence, particularly long-term absence, very seriously. Around 960,000 workers in Britain were on sick leave for more than a month each year between October 2010 and September 2013. To address this issue The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) are launching a scheme where workers will be referred for health assessments if they are sick for more than four weeks in an effort to address the issue. It is planned that the assessments will be carried out by occupational specialists who will draw up a plan and timetable to get the patient back to work quickly. The DWP believes the scheme will save employers £70 million a year and cut the time people spend off work by 20% to 40%.

While this is good news for employers – I know from many years of discussing HR and workforce management with a wide variety of businesses that many employers really don’t know the extent of sickness absence in their organisation. Of course if it is a long term absence someone is usually missed, but believe it or not, occasionally that’s not the case and employees  are paid long after they have left the company or even this earth!  Short term, unscheduled absence is, however, frequently missed or not captured and costs employers dear in lost productivity, overtime payments and employee engagement.

When I speak to employers about tracking their absence it always surprises me that they often think real-time capture of attendance raises unscheduled absence rates.  But if they think about it – what it actually reveals is that they were unaware how bad it was in the first place!

If you don’t know to what extent absence is affecting your business and managers aren’t able to spot absence trends amongst their employees, it makes it almost impossible for them to take steps to reduce it – after all you can’t manage what you don’t measure. So next time you notice one of your employees is not at their post – ask yourself this – if you knew the true cost of employee absence to your organisation – what would you do differently?

Here’s the popular list of the Top 10 Tips to Reduce Absence


‘Tis The Season To Be Jolly…Not!

christmas hangover..At this time of the year what with norovirus, ‘flu and other bugs around, together with post Christmas party hangovers and surreptitious shopping days being taken – unscheduled absence is a real problem for organisations across the UK. So today I thought I would revisit the Government’s independent review of sickness absence and see whether the recommendations have been implemented and what employers are doing to help manage this kind of absence.

According to the Department of Health, employers are spending around £9 billion in sick pay and related costs and over 140 million working days a year are lost to sickness absence.

The Government’s review Health at work – an independent review of sickness absence’ which was commissioned in November 2011 looked at how employers and the State could share the costs of sickness absence and made a number of recommendations aimed at improving the existing system. The review claimed that the reformed system of sickness absence management it advocated would save employers £400 million per year, the State £300 million a year and boost economic output by up to £1.4 billion.

In April 2010 the Government  decided the old ‘sick note’ was not ‘fit’ for purpose and replaced it with the ‘fit note’. The idea being to improve rates of return to work by including a ‘may be fit’category – where doctors had the choice of advising patients that they were fit for a ‘phased’ return to work if their employer could work with them. There’s been a very mixed response to the ‘fit note’ (which I covered in my blog ‘Are Fit Notes Sick?’)– particularly from Doctors who understandably don’t have the time, or the knowledge of people’s job, workplace etc to be able to give any guidance and so err on the side of caution or simply leave it to the employee to make the judgement call as to whether they are fit for work.

The review suggested that, for longer term sickness absence, an Independent Assessment Service should be set up. The service would be provided by approved health professionals, subject to quality controls and could be accessed if a person reached a certain time-threshold of absence by either a doctor or the employer. I can see it would have to be a system that would be accepted as fair and used consistently or there would be some pretty harsh criticism.

 Other incentives were also recommended including favourable tax implications and new insurance products aimed at encouraging attendance and reducing the cost of absence.

It all seems too hard to me, and we are still waiting to see what the Government’s response to the review has been, but in the meantime I will refer you to my previous blog which talks about the 10 Top Tips to Reduce Absence and remind everybody that you can’t manage something that is not measured.

Happy Christmas Everyone!