Employee Benefits Awards 2010: Most effective sickness absence management strategy


Humberside Police
Attendance criteria policy

Before introducing its sickness absence strategy, this was one of the worst-performing police forces in the country, with absence costing more than £3m a year. Culturally, there was an acceptance of sickness absence and staff perceived that they had the right to leave the force early with a full pension – at considerable cost to the organisation.

To tackle this problem, the force overhauled its approach to absence, which required a complete change to its culture. It achieved this by linking attendance to performance management and employee motivation. Attendance criteria are now taken into account when considering staff for promotion, internal transfers, performance payments, secondments and career grade assessments.

To support this, the force also improved its occupational health provision. Initiatives introduced included flexible working arrangements, rehabilitation, physiotherapy/podiatry, return-to-work interviews and convalescent care. The robust framework also included incentives to reward employees for attending work. Staff who have no absences during a leave year are awarded an extra day’s holiday. Those who notch up two consecutive absence-free years are awarded a further day’s leave.

The results of the strategy are impressive, showing sustained success over a 10-year period, reducing both cost and absence levels. Since the strategy was introduced, absence among police offers has fallen from 11.8 days to 6.3 days a year and the number of ill-health early retirements has dropped from 35 to two a year. These have both resulted in significant cost savings for the force.

Humberside is now in the top three of the country’s 43 police forces for low absence levels and is often held up as an example for others to follow.

Runners up
Aker Solutions (offshore partner)
GSOC sickness absence management strategy
This oil and gas services firm tackled the problem of staff not returning to work on a North Sea installation after home leave, claiming sickness. Its strategy resulted in lower absence levels and an 11% cut in the cost of absence.

Arena Housing Group
This registered social landlord takes a proactive approach to managing long-term absence, aiming to meet affected staff by week six of their absence. Since 2005, short-term absence has fallen from 10% a month to just 2.4%, while long-term absence has also fallen.

Boots UK Absence management
After the merger of Alliance Pharmacy and Boots the Chemist, the retailer operated different sick pay schemes and ways of managing absence. It introduced a new sick pay system (which meant a reduction in sick pay for some staff) and initiatives such as rewarding 100% attendance.

Ealing Homes Wellbeing and absence management strategy (entered by FirstCare)
This housing management association’s absence management scheme requires staff to report absences to a nurse-manned call centre. Absence levels have fallen by three days per employee per year, resulting in a saving of £52,000.

Hewitt Associates Be healthy with Hewitt
This consultancy firm implemented an absence management service to cut the costs of absence and aid earlier return to work. Absence is down from more than six days per employee per year to 4.2 days and the total cost of employee health has fallen by more than £1m a year.

System Concepts
This small employer offers a range of initiatives, focusing on stress and musculoskeletal issues, including financial incentives for staff to stop smoking, free fruit and the ability to claim fruit on expenses while travelling on business.

See full list of winners and finalists for Employee Benefits Awards 2010