Soaring absence levels back in 2004 forced insurance giant Prudential to change its strategy on keeping tabs on sick staff.
Helen Jackson, director of reward, policy and shared services for Prudential UK and Europe, said that in the summer of 2004, absence stood at 4% and was rising, and HR was repeatedly questioned on the issue at executive meetings.
Speaking at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development conference, she said that as a result, the company established annual absence targets, but also decided to concentrate not just on getting people back to work, but on keeping those who were coming in healthy.
In the past two years, Prudential has shifted its focus on sick staff rather than those still at work from 80:20 to 20:80, and launched an employee assistance programme in July 2005.
The programme offers a freephone service that talks staff through how to get back to work. It is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and 10% of staff signed up to use it.
Prudential has also kicked off healthy living initiatives, offering screenings for skin cancer and free massages to tackle back pain.
Jackson said that since deciding to tackle absenteeism more forcefully, long-term absence has been reduced to 1.61%, and the business has saved £1m.
She said: “Absenteeism really is a big business issue, and you can show that it does make a difference to cost savings.”