Two-thirds (66%) of respondents proactively manage sickness absence as a business risk, according to research by EEF and Jelf Employee Benefits.
The eleventh 2014 Sickness absence survey, which surveyed 335 manufacturing organisations, found that nearly two-fifths (39%) of respondents do not set a sickness absence target.
Of those that did set a sickness absence target in 2013, almost two-thirds (63%) achieved it.
The research found that sickness absence levels have reached a low of 2.1%, equivalent to 4.9 days per employee per year.
Two-fifths (40%) of respondents reported that the most common causes of long-term sickness absence are musculoskeletal issues, stress and other mental health conditions.
Almost half (46%) of respondents currently pay for medical interventions.
Of the 54% that do not, 46% would be willing to fund interventions if they received direct tax relief from the government, while 48% said they would make use of the government’s proposed £500 tax relief cap for employees.
The research also found:
- 24% of respondents believed the fit note has resulted in employees returning to work earlier, compared to 40% that said that it had not.
- More respondents (45%) disagree that the advice given by GPs about employees’ fitness for work has improved than agree (16%).
- 33% of respondents did not receive any fit notes signed ‘may be fit for work’, a figure which has remained more or less consistent in the four years the fit note has been in operation.
- 40% of respondents said there was insufficient information in the fit note to make a decision about making work adjustments, up from 33% in 2012.
- 23% of respondents had not seen any computer-generated fit notes, with employers reporting manual notes were still the most common.
Professor Sayeed Khan (pictured), chief medical adviser at EEF, said: “Driving down absence rates, helping more employees return to work earlier and encouraging their wellbeing is critical for our economy.
“But, despite employers increasing investment in managing sickness absence and, providing their employees with more health-related benefits, the improvement in overall absence rates has more or less now plateaued.
“From now on, the focus has to be on reducing long-term absence, which is only going to happen if we up our game. This must start by making the fit note work so that it can make real inroads on delivering the objective of reducing unnecessary sickness absence.”
Iain Laws, managing director – UK healthcare at Jelf Employee Benefits, added: “A focus on prevention must become a priority for UK employers that need to maintain a competitive workforce within an overall population that is both ageing and ailing.
“This is not only essential to tackle absence, but to also address the less easily identifiable issue of presenteeism (reduced job performance resulting from ill health).
“This is fundamentally a wellbeing problem with stress and musculoskeletal issues almost certainly mirrored as the main causes as with absenteeism.
“Furthermore, we believe that every day the Health and Work Service is delayed, it costs UK manufacturers time and money in lost productivity and additional administration in getting employees back to work.”