Recent months have seen a flurry of innovative employer initiatives aimed at tackling sickness absence, such as British Airways’ £1,000 bonus for staff taking less than 16 days sick leave over the next two years.
Other schemes have included Royal Mail’s offer of the chance to win a car as a reward for employees not taking time off for six months, and retailer Tesco’s trial withdrawal of sick pay for the first three days of absence.
Initiatives such as these are pretty much guaranteed to seize the headlines, but they run the risk of being short-term fixes penalising the genuinely ill – unless they form part of a holistic, structured approach to absence management with occupational health on centre stage.
Stephen Bevan, director of research at research body The Work Foundation, says: “Employers need to take a holistic view of employee well-being. Too many 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.”
The cost of sickeness absence
Sick leave costs business more than £11bn each year, according to the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), and the average cost of sickness absence per employee rose by 3.7 per cent to £588 in 2003, according to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) in its 2004 absence survey.
More than 90 per cent of employers consider sickness absence to be a significant or very significant cost to the business, says the CIPD.
Recent months have also seen various government drives aimed at addressing sickness absence. In November, the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) published its management standards on stress and the Government’s White Paper, Choosing Health: Making Healthy Choices Easier, urged employers to be more active in health promotion and to encourage ill employees back to work as soon as possible.
The need for early intervention was also stressed in the Department of Work and Pensions’ report Building capacity for work: a UK framework for vocational rehabilitation, published the previous month.
Against such a backdrop with sickness absence very much in the news, the pressure is on OH to come up with long-term solutions that take into account the broader picture.
TUC health and safety officer, Tom Mellish, says: “Employers need to establish whether people are off sick because of the working structure of t