Being proactive on health

This article is brought to you by our sponsor Norwich Union.

Dr Doug Wright, head of Integrated Services at Norwich Union Healthcare, says that employers gain by putting in place an absence management strategy that encourages prevention as well as cure.

Insuring against the potential costs of illness and having a contingency plan in place to provide faster treatment at less cost and inconvenience to both the employer and employee has fast become the bedrock of absence management strategies.

However, according to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s Absence management survey 2007, employers on average believe that around 16% of absence recorded as sickness is non-genuine. Typical reasons for this type of absence include; home and family responsibilities, demotivation and a need to “re-charge batteries” – all factors that traditional insurance products will not address.

Moreover, traditional insurance products such as private medical insurance and group income protection are designed to provide a benefit once the employee is ill, and in many cases the employee is already absent.

An absence management strategy needs to address a wide range of issues in order to be of value. Effective and accurate recording of absence is the vital first step and this must capture the reason as well as the frequency. Appropriate people management policies need to be put in place along with employee education and line manager training.

Traditional insurance-based services are one element of dealing with ill health once it arises and these can be strengthened by return-to-work rehabilitation programmes. However, organisations also need to consider introducing preventative health activities. There are now a plethora of services available including: gym membership discounts, complementary therapies, ergonomics, screening, fitness tests, lifestyle assessments, smoking cessation programmes, drug and alcohol testing, on-site occupational health nursing, risk management, psychometric testing and stress management, to name but a few.

Every company is different and needs to develop an absence management strategy that fits its own culture and requirements. There is no “one size fits all” approach. An analysis of existing absence data can be undertaken to help work out what action is needed. If this does not provide adequate information, systems such as a nurse-led or automated telephone and web-based service can be used to record the incidence of absence and provide tailored reporting that enables effective tracking, benchmarking and management of absence.

Other “diagnostic” options include surveys of employees that capture current health needs as well as future health issues that have not yet impacted on absence or productivity.

Once the actual problem is understood then targeted solutions can be chosen and implemented. These may be enhancements to existing products to enable early intervention.

By introducing an absence management strategy that encompasses prevention and wellness through to long and short-term illness, claims costs can be minimised and this in turn can help control future insurance premiums. An employer that puts in place an absence management strategy that encourages prevention rather than cure will be taking positive steps towards reducing the likelihood of employee liability claims as opposed to one who only treats the problems once they arise.

Companies that adopt such an approach are likely to see a positive impact. Staff turnover, absenteeism, accidents and stress levels will fall, while morale, loyalty and productivity will rise.

The views and opinions in this article are those of our sponsor, Norwich Union, and do not necessarily reflect those of

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