Absence management needs long-term remedy

Welcome to the latest issue of Occupational Health Extra. In this issue, we are looking at the question of managing absence. Sick leave costs UK business more than £11bn each year, according to the CBI, and the CIPD estimates that the average cost of sickness absence per employee rose by 3.7 per cent to 588 in 2003. More than 90 per cent of employers consider sickness absence to be a significant or very significant cost to the business.

This is certainly a complex subject – and one that cannot be resolved with a ‘quick fix’, no matter how attractive this might be to some employers. Recent headline grabbing initiatives include British Airways’ 1,000 bonus for staff taking less than 16 days sick leave over the next 24 months; Royal Mail’s offer of a car as prize for six months’ service without taking a day off sick; and Tesco’s trial withdrawal of sick pay for the first three days of absence.

But unless such initiatives form part of a structured approach to absence management, they run the risk of being short-term fixes, which penalise the genuinely ill. Managing absence effectively means having a systematic strategy for monitoring sick leave, keeping in touch with staff who are unable to work for long periods, easing them back into the workplace when they are ready to return – and keeping tabs on the small minority of employees who are abusing the system.

As The Work Foundation has pointed out, too many organisations are trying to deal with absence as a cause rather than a symptom of the long-hours culture, poor job design or problems with interactions at work. In order to influence HR and management to take an informed and consistent approach, OH professionals need to stay abreast of current good practice. To help with this, we have produced this round-up of information, up-to-date research, current thinking among OH professionals and the legal implications of managing absence. I hope you find it useful.

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