As the day of the working year on which the highest number of employees are likely to call in sick, the first Monday in February has been given the dubious title of National Sickie Day.
Of course, in winter colds and flu are circulating and it is often preferable to have a genuinely ill employee stay home rather than infect the entire workforce. But the occasion does highlight some more serious issues about the broader and very costly problem of staff absence in British workplaces.
The potential cost of sickness absence is huge, and companies need to behave proactively to reduce the impact of ill health on the business and employees. One of the first steps in doing this is to identify a health problem early, if possible before any absence is taken – if not, then within the first week of absence.
This does not necessarily mean intervening early, but rather assessing an employee swiftly to see whether they need to be referred to a health professional or can, in fact, help themselves.
Line managers' role
Line managers should be at the heart of this process. They are the key to managing attendance, and this should become part of their responsibilities, and be monitored as such. Of course, line managers need to be trained to understand the clinical, legal, occupational and financial aspects of ill health.
They should be supported by a case manager, responsible for the management of the finer details such as appropriate referrals and the right intervention (either clinical, psychological or social, or a mixture. Case managers should also be able to provide advice on safely managing employees at work, or back to work to achieve a reduction of costs relating to sickness absence, treatment and injury claims.
Clearly, employees themselves have an important part to play. They may need guidance in understanding their options, treatment choices and how to actively engage in their own recovery. In both musculoskeletal and mental health conditions, the evidence-based biopsychosocial approach – which has been around for a number of years but is still not widely practiced – advocates a