CIPD/Simplyhealth research: Fit notes prompt employers to discuss sickness absence

The introduction of the fit note has prompted employers to hold conversations with their staff around sickness absence and the best ways to get an individual back to work in the case of long-term illness.

The Absence management survey, conducted by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and Simplyhealth, found that 52% of respondents agree that the fit note has enabled line managers to prompt such conversations with staff.

One-third (31%) of respondents agreed that fit notes help to manage sickness absence more effectively. The majority (87%) have used the fit note in their organisations, although it is less common in smaller businesses with fewer than 50 employees (54%).

However, the research suggests that employers remain unconvinced that the fit note has yet had much impact in helping to reduce levels of employee sickness absence. One in ten (11%) said the fit note had reduced absence in their organisation. The same number of respondents believed the fit note is being used effectively by GPs.

Dr Jill Miller, adviser at the CIPD, said: “Our research reveals the value fit notes can have in promoting good-quality conversations between managers and their employees, which has a positive impact on the management of absence.

“However, the survey suggests the fit note has yet to have a real impact on reducing absence levels. This is perhaps not surprising considering the culture change needed by GPs, employers and employees to ensure that a phased return-to-work is more frequently regarded as a positive and integral part of employees’ rehabilitation and recovery.

“We are seeing some positive reviews of the fit note from GPs, but employers do not share such a warm view at present. GPs and employers need to work from the same page, promoting what is best for the individual employee’s health and wellbeing, but also what makes sense for the business.

“Employees too need to be more forthcoming and willing to enter these discussions. Policy makers, however, should not be discouraged as it may well take five years or so before the fit note is consistently used effectively and viewed more favourably by GPs, employers and employees, to support early and lasting returns to work.”

Gill Phipps, HR spokesperson at Simplyhealth, added: “We and the CIPD are keen to hear the government’s response to the recommendations from the recent sickness absence review.

“Helping employees get back into work following illness or prolonged sickness absence is beneficial for both the employee and the employer. Quality support and training are vital for initiatives to properly embed and become successful within organisations.”

The research follows the publication of recommendations from the government-commissioned independent review into sickness absence.

Read also the Employee Benefits roundtable discussion on sickness absence

Read also Are fit notes reducing staff absences?

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