Government efforts to get the long-term sick off benefits and back to work risk being undermined by the low levels of rehabilitation support offered in the workplace, according to the HR body the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).
Its annual absence management survey has found that nearly four out of 10 employers offer no rehabilitation support to help employees return to work.
The CIPD’s workplace health adviser, Ben Willmott, said the government should seriously consider if tax breaks could be offered to companies that provide good quality rehabilitation services.
“The government could make a real difference by providing tax incentives to encourage more employers to use occupational health and vocational rehabilitation services,” he stressed.
There was also a sharp split between the public and private sectors – with just 48% of private sector firms offering OH and vocational rehabilitation services, compared with 84% of employers in the public sector – and falling to just a quarter in organisations employing less than 50 people.
Where support was offered, on average it took more than two months before the employee was referred, when their chances of a successful return were likely to have diminished significantly.
Willmott also called on the government to implement the recommendations from Dame Carol Black’s review of workplace health as soon as possible, as well as put more money into developing NHS Plus and the rehabilitation support services provided by Remploy.
The survey found sickness absence accounted for on average eight absence days per employee per year, a slight fall from the 8.4 days recorded last year.
Employers estimated the average cost of absence to be £666 per employee per year, with short-term absence remaining the biggest headache for private sector firms.
Long-term absence of more than four weeks accounted for more than 29% of working time lost to absence in the public sector, almost double that of private sector organisations, on 13%.