Shortlisted team for Occupational Health Award for Managing Employee Health: Personnel Today Awards 2000.
When the Sperrin Lakeland Health and Social Care Trust set up a working group to examine staff absence management in 1996, absence levels were at a relatively unexceptional 4.6 per cent. The trust, which provides health and primary care services to a population of 115,000 over 1,000 square miles of Northern Ireland, thought it could do better. Ironically, in the short-term, the impact of the Omagh bomb meant that absence levels were about to shoot through the roof.
When the working group reported back it recommended appointing a project coordinator. Following the appointment, absence rates within the trust were running at an average of 7.36 per cent. This figure then dramatically worsened peaking at nearly 12 per cent in some disciplines. However, great efforts have been made to bring figures back down and the upward trend has been arrested across nearly all disciplines.
One of the most innovative things about Sperrin’s absence management project is the way it made it possible for a single individual to examine all factors associated with absence and attendance within the trust allied with the fact that it was possible to get support for the project from both the board of the trust and the staff themselves.
While the project itself has a single theme – attendance at work – it has multi-dimensional sides. The aim is to adopt a holistic approach that recognises and responds to needs of staff to help achieve a healthy work-life balance.
Information on absence levels at each hospital, directorate and ward was collated and reviewed to begin and identify if there were any apparent trends or patterns. This exercise highlighted a number of issues but was largely inconclusive – it appeared most wards had an "absence problem" at some time or another with very few departments having low or negligible results.
When this exercise was completed it was agreed Sperrin needed a more in-depth study on reasons for absence, the effects of absence on individuals, managers and teams and possible solutions to improve attendance levels.
This led to a number of initiatives being introduced including a process for improved communications, a project on developing career pathways for nurses, a project on changing working arrangements, examining the feasibility of self-rostering within a number of pilot departments and a pilot project on the management of absence.
Efforts to improve the situation have involved managers and staff in the development and implementation of proposals, and staff have been given the opportunity to voice their views on issues such as absenteeism, support for mothers with young dependants and workplace health/welfare issues. Those with difficulties have been afforded opportunities to influence decisions on solutions.
Company fact file
Team Sperrin Lakeland Health and Social Care Trust
Team leader Gerry McLaughlin, director of HR and operational services
Number of people in HR team 9
Number of employees HR is responsible for 2,923
Main achievements Reversing the upward trend in staff absenteeism in the face of adverse external circumstances and giving staff ownership of the project by adopting an inclusive approach
Priorities for next 12 months To reduce the absence level further by addressing the many dimensions that influence attendance at work
Judges’ Comment "We thought the Sandwell proposal was forward looking – developing initiatives which reflect current government policy applied ata local level. We were pleased to see the range of services and at the cohesive way in which the team worked"