Optimising sickness absence management

Key sickness absence management principles that optimise the performance and health of your business and staff

Recently the average cost of sickness absence has been measured at approximately £100 per day for an absent employee (CIPD, 2014). However the true cost is likely to be significantly greater than this amount for many businesses due to additional factors including, but not limited to, increased workload on other staff, human resources management, lost productivity, reduced staff morale, cost of replacement staff and impacts on client relationships (Kronos, 2014). Indeed the true cost of unplanned sickness absence for many businesses will likely average several hundreds of pounds per absent employee / day.

However businesses can effectively control sickness absence costs by taking steps to ensure sickness absence management policy, systems and processes adequately control the costs and risks associated with sickness absence. Any review should ideally be undertaken by an occupational health consultant with experience in analysing related systems, policies, processes and people. The review should incorporate a structured and holistic sickness absence audit to assess your performance against best practice guidelines. Key elements to review are as follows:

  1. Review your businesses current and historical absence rates, durations and categories in comparison to normative data e.g. CIPD and HSE absence figures.
  2. Measure the true cost of absence for your organisation based on an assessment of the specific direct and indirect costs.
  3. Review your current sickness absence capture process to ensure the business is capturing absence in a timely and structured manner. Absence capture should incorporate the following:
  • Cause of absence based on health condition category.
  • Estimated return to work date.
  • Whether the absence has a reported work related cause or aggravation.
  • Escalated triggers based on organisational risk e.g. repeated short term absence or mental health related absence.
  • Initial steps taken to manage absence e.g. refer to occupational health and / or encourage use of employee assistance programme.
  • Level of medical certification.
  • Steps taken to close off absence once employee has returned to work e.g. return to work interview.
  1. Review the existing human resource and occupational health provision related to the management of sickness absence. The review should assess the following:
  • Is sickness absence management advice being sought in a timely manner? Any delay in referral will likely increase the risk of extended absence and reduce the potential for a successful return to work.
  • Does your current human resources support have adequate skills to manage all sickness absence? Are they escalating referrals to occupational health in a timely manner?
  • Does the occupational health provider utilise a triage process to prioritise the level of involvement?
  • Is escalated referral for occupational health based on triggers that are linked to organisational risk and the absence capture process?
  • Does the advice adequately consider the referral requirements and provide you with clear and proactive recommendations regarding an employees current fitness for work, prognosis, return to work plan, potential workplace adjustments / modifications and practical strategies to address identified return to work issues and barriers?
  • Does the advice promote safe, durable and timely return to work outcomes?
  1. Review the current new employee health screening when a new employee starts with your business. Health screening should be tailored to both job and environmental demands and also be linked to any specific workplace hazards. Subsequent fitness for work recommendations should be significantly detailed enough to reduce the risk of aggravating any underlying health condition. Assessing an employee’s health at the start of their employee lifecycle also provides a very cost effective control to prevent potential sickness absence.
  2. Review the adequacy of the current absence management policy. Does the policy cover all aspects of absence management from absence capture to occupational health referral and return to work process? Are employees informed of the policy and does it adequately consider all absence risk controls?
  3. Review the organisations job and environmental demands. Has the business adequately assessed the job and environmental demands? Are they clearly presented in a resource document that is accesible by key stakeholders? A comprehensive job demands analysis completed by an experienced ergonomic workplace assessor can be a valuable return to work resource for management, occupational health, safety and human resources.
  4. Review the current modified duties and / or workplace adjustments that can be considered. Has the business proactively considered potential workplace adjustments / modifications for different jobs? These should ideally be considered while undertaking a job demand analysis so the demands of any adjustments / modifcations can match an employees functional work capacity.
  5. Review current return to work plans. Do your current return to work plans for absent employees provide enough detail to efficiently manage the return to work process?
  6. Review competency and support provided to human resources and / or operational managers to manage the return to work process. Do your staff have sufficient skills, knowledge and resources to appropriately manage the return to work process?
  7. Review existing wellbeing and health management controls and initiatives. Has your business reviewed the effectiveness of such measures as health screening, health surveillance, wellbeing programmes, employee assistance programmes, private medical insurance and / or health plans? Are these controls in line with your businesses absence risks?
  8. Has your business reviewed the current impact of presenteeism (employees attending work while suffering from a health condition, injury and / or illness)? Presenteeism can have a significant cost impact and inevitably contribute to the level of sick absence risk.
  9. Review employer’s liability insurance services. Several employers liability insurance providers fund pre-claim rehabilitation services which provide cost effective rehabilitation services to manage sickness absence that is caused and / or aggravated by work?
  10. Review existing safety risk management strategies. Does your business adequately assess, manage and control work related risk factors that might contribute to employee sickness absence? Key elements to consider include job design, workload demands, environmental hazards and equipment design.
  11. Review business culture. Does your business culture consistently support safe, durable and timely return to work for employees?
  12. And last but certainly not least. Has your business integrated the new UK government fit for work service into relevant policies, systems and processes? How is this service going to be integrated into your existing occupational health provision?

At Ergability, we provide specialist occupational health and rehabilitation consultancy services that optimise the performance and health of your business and staff. We provide clear and proactive recommendations that control the costs associated with sickness absence and also contribute to business success.