Measures to crack down on sickness absence in the public sector will only succeed if line managers are given extra training, experts have warned.
Last week, the Government’s taskforce for health, safety and productivity – led by minister for work Jane Kennedy – announced plans to cut public sector absence figures from an average of 10 days per person to 7.5. This would equate to the output of an extra 7,000 employees.
Under the proposals, civil servants would have to make daily phone calls to the office when off sick for short periods. Managers would challenge staff who certify themselves as ill for more than five working days at a time, and make checks on those who regularly take Fridays and Mondays off as sick leave.
Ben Willmott, employee relations adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, said that civil servants need to make sure absence is managed in a co-ordinated and consistent way to ensure the targets are met.
“Managers and employees need to be clear about the procedures to go through, and managers need to make sure these policies are well communicated,” he said. “This will require appropriate training for managers to meet their obligations and to take responsibility for managing absence.”
The lack of support for line managers was highlighted as a key reason for poor attendance policies at the Department for Work and Pensions in a report released by the National Audit Office last week.
The public spending watchdog said that managers were aware of their responsibility for implementing attendance policy. However, managers were not clear about the roles and responsibilities of other line managers, senior managers and HR teams. The report recommended increased monitoring of management actions by HR to ensure that managers could fulfil their roles, with mentoring and straightforward guides for new managers.
It also said managers needed more training in how to deal with personal issues and raising staff morale, and about what to expect from occupational health.
The Public and Commercial Services Union insisted that staff in the DWP were not work-shy, but faced stressful working conditions, such as job insecurity and IT failures.