Flexibility and communication key to reducing long-term absence

Employers believe that flexibility and communication are the most effective approaches to helping employees return to work after long-term sickness absence, a survey has found.

According to research by XpertHR, 40% of organisations cited phased returns as the most successful method of facilitating the return to work of staff members on long-term sick leave.

Employers also stressed the importance of the involvement of long-term absentees in the return-to-work process, with employee contribution in the preparation of return-to-work plans cited as the most effective tool by 36% of employers and keeping in touch with absent staff members by phone voted top by 29%.

The survey also found that, on average, long-term absence accounted for 28% of the total days lost to sickness in 2010. This compared with an average of 43% reported in a similar XpertHR survey looking at absence during 2008.

According to the 153 employers that took part, the most common causes of long-term absence in 2010 were acute medical conditions (83%), mental ill health (73%) and stress (70%).

Charlotte Wolff, author of the report, commented: “According to our results, earlier returns after long-term absence are more likely to be achieved if the employer uses informal, two-way communication methods, applies a flexible approach to the employee’s role after they return, and encourages them to be actively involved with their own return-to-work plan.

“For a higher chance of an early return, keep in touch with the employee from the start, maintain regular contact throughout the duration of the absence, and make sure that line managers are given robust support if they are to be involved in the absence management process.”

View the full findings of the sickness absence report.

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