The fit note is providing an important "nudge" to get managers to instigate conversations with their staff to discuss the best way to help get individuals back to work, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has argued.
According to findings from its absence management survey, published in October 2011, the CIPD said that more than half of employers agreed that the introduction of the fit note had prompted line managers into conversations about absence and health issues with their staff.
Less than one-third agreed that the fit note helped line managers manage absence more effectively.
The vast majority (87%) had used the fit note in their organisations, although its use was less common in businesses with fewer than 50 staff.
CIPD adviser Dr Jill Miller said: "GPs and employers need to work from the same page, promoting what is best for the individual employee's health and wellbeing, but also what makes sense for the business. Policy-makers, however, should not be discouraged as it may take five years or so before the fit note is consistently used effectively and viewed more favourably by GPs, employers and employees, to support early and lasting returns to work.
In a separate move, the CIPD has backed mental health charity Mind's ongoing campaign to encourage employers and workers to talk about mental health issues. The institute and the charity have launched a new guide, Managing and supporting mental health at work, to help more employers manage and support mental health at work.
In another poll of 2,000 workers, just a quarter of respondents said that their organisation encouraged staff to talk openly about mental health problems and only 37% said that their employer offered sufficient support for mental health.
Women, it found, were significantly more likely to report experiencing a mental health problem while in employment than men.