41% report increase in long-term sickness absence in manufacturing sector

Iain Laws Jelf

More than four in ten (41%) employer respondents in the manufacturing sector reported an increase in long-term sickness absence in the last two years, according to research by EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation, and Jelf.

The EEF/Jelf Sickness absence survey 2016, which surveyed 306 organisations in the manufacturing sector, also found that almost a third (31%) of respondents would pay for employees’ medical treatment if this provided a benefit to the organisation.

The research also found:

  • 41% of respondents rely exclusively on NHS treatment to reduce long-term sickness absence and help employees return to work, and 18% pay for some form of non-NHS medical treatment.
  • More than half (59%) of respondents would be most incentivised to cover the cost of treatment or workplace adjustments by some form of employer-allowable business expense.
  • More than a quarter (27%) of respondents do not have interventions in place to support employees with mental health-related long-term sickness absence.
  • Around a third (32%) of respondents measure the economic cost of sickness absence.
  • 78% of respondents are aware of the government’s Fit for Work Service. Of those aware of the service, 54% would consider using it but have not done so yet, and 18% would not use it at all.
  • Less than a fifth (19%) of respondents are definitely willing to pay for medical treatments recommended by the Fit for Work service, and 59% have yet to decide.
  • 45% of respondents believe the Fit Note is failing to get employees back into work, and 13% believe it has resulted in earlier returns to work.

Iain Laws (pictured), managing director, UK healthcare and group risk at Jelf, said: “The health of employees is a major factor in an organisation’s competitiveness. More and more employers are realising that both keeping people in work and, getting them back earlier from absence, is enormously important for their business.

“Healthy employees can be up to three times as productive as those in poor health. They experience fewer motivational problems, are more resilient to change, and are more likely to be engaged with the business priorities. It is essential that [organisations] have systems in place that recognise this and that place employee health provision at their heart.”

Terry Woolmer, head of health and safety policy at EEF, added: “Keeping people fit and healthy while enabling a speedy return to work from absence is essential to economic growth and improvements in productivity. However, currently we have long-term absence on the increase and an under pressure NHS which is struggling to deal with the issue. Given this situation is only going to get worse with an ageing population, radical action is now required.

“Government must now use fiscal incentives to encourage employers to pay for private medical treatment and allow it to be offset in the same way as other business expenses. Not only would this help take the pressure off the NHS, but it would allow a speedier return to work. This would be a win-win for government, the employee and employers.”