OH and HR failing to see eye to eye over staff sickness absence

The relationship between HR and occupational health is increasingly strained, with many HR managers believing OH practitioners too readily accept what employees tell them, are not business focused enough, and are lacklustre in helping to get employees back to work.

In return, OH professionals accuse HR of being reluctant to consider phased returns and reasonable adjustments, as well as failing to understand the constraints under which OH operates.

The research, published in the latest edition of Occupational Health’s sister title IRS Employment Review, found more than half of the 57 employers polled outsourced their OH provision, with just one-quarter going the in-house route.

The average spend on OH services was £30 per head per year, although some spent 10 times this amount, up to £750 per person each year in one case.

OH was seen as vital in helping employers fulfil their legal duty of care to their employees, ranked top by 87% of the employers polled.

After this came helping in return-to-work after long-term absence, maintaining or improving health, safety and wellbeing, reducing absence, reducing or avoiding delays for NHS treatment, and improving performance.

But around one-quarter of employers complained that OH physicians and advisers were not business focused or proactive enough.

One-fifth were unhappy with the quality of advice and reports they provided and felt OH could do more in helping to get staff back to work.

Just over one in 10 wanted OH to collaborate more with them, and 12% felt practitioners too readily accepted the information supplied to them by employees.

As one manager told the researchers: “We find that, even having had the opportunity to examine employees personally, our occupational health professionals often sit on the fence and are not prepared to make any definitive statements that will support an individual’s absence management strategy, which is very frustrating.

“They don’t see themselves as part of the decision-making process and aren’t prepared to take any responsibility for the actions arising from the information they provide.”

But OH in return criticised employers for too often asking the wrong questions and having inflexible sick pay policies.

OH was often presented with a brusque “when is this individual coming back?” instead of a more constructive “how can we get this individual back to work?”.

Ref: IRS Employment Review, Issue 878

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