Coming out of the Employee Benefits Summit 2012, there has been a debate focusing on long term sickness absence and that it is not solely a benefits issue but a management issue as well. This discussion came out of an independent study of sickness absence produced by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) late last year.
Further to this point, sessions at the summit focused on how the cost of sickness absence can be reduced for both employers and taxpayers as well as for the economy as a whole. The difficulty, according to the session, is that this is something that cannot be outsourced and needs to be handled by internal managers.
Causes of long Term Absence
One of the main causes of long term sickness absence is musculoskeletal problems; often further developing other symptoms including depression and other mental health concerns. These additional concerns can spawn from the way the employee is treated by their management, such as the level of contact throughout and how the communications go. According to the review, around 11 million employees in the UK need to take sickness absence each year – 300,000 of those never manage to return to work. It is believed that if managers were to get more involved earlier in sickness absence, this figure could be dramatically reduced.
Managing the Problems
The problem that most people face however is the difficulty in discussing these often delicate health issues. For some, it can be quite easy to discuss back ache or other musculoskeletal issues; however it tends to be a different story when it comes to mental health concerns, family problems and financial difficulties. Managers should have a greater grasp of how to tackle these issues and increased training is the key to managing tricky situations including mental health and stress.
In an attempt to manage these issues before they become major problems, communication between employer and employee is vital. Keeping open and honest communications with staff, including those who are currently absent from work, are paramount to staying on top of things and making sure other mental health factors do not creep into the equation.
Monitoring absence data is another important part of improving sickness absence levels. It is important to keep an eye on absence levels, monitoring to see if clusters or patterns exist and if there are ways to improve in those areas. This may also raise issues not only with sickness absence, but also overall management and could be a good way to positively impact the business as a whole.
Gareth writes on the behalf of AXA PPP healthcare, specialists in a variety of business medical insurance options including self employed health insurance