Employee Benefits Summit 2012: Long-term sickness absence is a management issue

Long-term sickness absence is not just a benefits issue, but also a management issue according to David Frost, co-chair of Health at work – an independent review of sickness absence, which he carried out with Dame Carol Black for the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in November 2011.

During a session on reducing the cost of sickness absence to employers, taxpayers and the economy on 20 June at the Employee Benefits Summit, Frost said: “Employers can’t outsource the management of sickness absence, the managers have to be trained.”

Frost also said that although sickness absence is predominantly due to musculoskeletal issues, these often morph into mental-health issues, such as depression, which can be caused by factors such as employees not being contacted by their manager for more than four weeks.

The review found that 11 million UK employees take sick leave from work each year, and 300,000 never return to work. This figure could be changed if managers were to practice early intervention, said Frost.

However, he acknowledged that it is not easy to have a discussion with employees around mental illness, family problems or financial issues, but that managers should be trained to do so. He added: “Employers are worried about the term stress. Training is needed.”

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