Line managers critical to reducing sick leave

Educating and training line managers being critical to cutting absence rates and preventing unnecessary long-term sick leave, was a key theme at the IRS Managing Absence and Attendance conference.

Joy Reymond, head of rehabilitation services at income protection services insurer Unum, said that line managers needed to understand health risks in the workplace and advised “educating front-line management about ergonomics and safe/healthy work practices”.

Another recommendation from the speakers was to maintain contact with an individual while they are on sick leave.

“The purpose is not to harass people, but to let people know their absence is noted and that their presence is important,” said Dr Lucy Wright, director of clinical services at Atos Healthcare.

Dr Su Wang, group head of health, Royal Mail, said that employers should not rely on simply contacting people when a trigger point (a specific amount of time on sick leave) has been reached.

I think triggers are helpful but they shouldn’t be the be-all and end-all,” said Wang. “Dialogue with employees, conversations with individuals and addressing issues – that will help them attend more. But managers should use discretion.”

Geoff Davies, chairman of the Commercial Occupational Health Providers Association, added that management discretion should be backed up by making absence part of their performance measurement. “Management discretion is fine, but you need accountability,” he said.

Having an individual responsible for co-ordinating return to work was crucial, said Reymond. “This is quite often absent in UK PLC – having someone who sees return to work as their primary responsibility makes all the difference.”

She said this form of case management would become an issue once the ‘Fit for work service’ recommended by Dame Carol Black was piloted. Black’s recommendations raise issues about who will deliver the service, what skills they will need, and what training they will need, said Reymond.

Several speakers spoke of the importance of making the business case for absence intervention using key performance indicators that managers understand.

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