Experts urge cultural slant on illness

Employers must tackle the cultural causes and not just the symptoms of
sickness absence, experts have warned following Wandsworth council’s decision
to penalise those who take excessive sick leave.

"Managing lost time must take account of the soft as well as the hard
issues," according to Christine Owen, occupational health specialist at
human resources consultancy William M Mercer.

"In other words, organisations should be identifying whether the true
causes of absence are related to illness or not."

Wandsworth employees last month voted in favour of a one-day strike in
protest at the council’s plans to require staff to make up working hours or
lose annual leave or pay if they exceed an absence threshold.

The council, said Owen, appeared to have "addressed just one element in
a very robust fashion. The reaction triggered may produce the opposite effect
intended by actually increasing lost time."

Successful management of the problem of "lost time"involves a raft
of solutions including reviewing the role and policies of managers, Owen
warned.

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