Strict stance doesn’t cure sick problem

Employers who are tough on sick leave risk alienating staff and increasing absenteeism, an occupational health expert has claimed.

Dr Mike Orton, formerly an occupational health doctor for BMI, a provider of outsourced OH services, said trials at Marks & Spencer of a strict sick note system caused sickness absence to increase by more than 10 per cent. It required employees to seek a doctor’s certificate for even minor ailments.

Although the scheme at a West London store initially reduced the number of sick days, staff eventually became so annoyed by the system that they began to rebel.

Dr Orton said, “For the first three months, the stores reported a drop in sickness absence because staff were scared.

“But after they realised it was easy to get a doctor’s note and the company would pay for it, absence increased again.”

Over the year of the trial, the store had only 20 days’ sickness leave in the first quarter, but this had quadrupled to 80 by the end of the year.

“The local GP had a pile of signed sick notes in his practice, especially for the Marks & Spencer staff because he became so annoyed with the scheme,” said Dr Orton.

“What they were left with was the same level of absence and a stream of angry letters from doctors to head office complaining.”

Dr Orton advised companies that the best way to reduce sickness absence was to improve workplace conditions and reduce stress by training staff and managers to use their communication skills.

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