Levels of sickness absence down in 2011

The number of UK employees without sickness absence increased to 51% in 2011, up from 46% in 2010, according to research by manufacturers’ body the EEF and health cash plan provider Westfield Health.

The EEF/Westfield Health 2012 annual sickness absence report attributed the decrease to the steps that employers have taken in this area, including setting stretching absence targets, training line managers and providing employees with occupational health services.

Despite these efforts by employers, the research found that the overall sickness absence rate has flattened off and remained unchanged from 2010 at 2.2%, while the average working days lost to absence has shown a marginal increase from 5 days per employee to 5.1 days.

Additional findings include:

  • 55% of respondents expressed concerns about presenteeism, in particular on its impact on long-term health, short-term illness and unmotivated employees. However, only 5% of respondents currently monitor the cost of presenteeism.

  • 30% of respondents said the fit note has made a difference (compared to 11% that find it less helpful), but almost 60% said it has made no difference to date.
  • Fewer respondents see GPs as a barrier to rehabilitation, down to 23% from 34% in 2008.
  • 13% of respondents set stretch sickness absence targets of below 2% with 70% achieving this target.

  • 72% of respondents have more than 40% of employees with zero absence, up from 58% in 2010.
  • Manual workers have a higher absence rate than non-manual (6.7 days per employee compared to 3.2).

Sayeed Khan, chief medical adviser at the EEF, said: “With our economy still suffering from weak growth we need to pull every possible lever to improve our economic performance. This includes helping employees to return to health and work as soon as possible.

“There are now signs that the wins to reduce short-term absence are being exhausted and we need a fresh approach from government to address the more deep-rooted problems such as stress and back pain.

“For its part, government must now implement the Frost/Black recommendations as a matter of urgency. In particular it must embed the fit note culture through the training of all doctors and support organisations that invest in rehabilitation.

“At the same time, organisations should get involved and make the fit note work for them. All the evidence shows the more employers put into the fit note, the more they get out of it.”

Paul Shires, executive director at Westfield Health, added: “Encouragingly, this year’s survey results show a decline in short-term absence, particularly among those employers that are being proactive in managing sickness absence and are implementing measures such as health insurance.

“As the NHS continues to work towards its £20 billion savings target by 2014, we would expect the amount of employers taking a more proactive approach to grow. It is essential that health insurers continue introducing more relevant benefits to bridge gaps in service provision.

“However, as the survey shows, overall sickness absence has plateaued and stress-related absenteeism has grown. It is clear that more needs to be done to aid and assist employers with their healthcare needs.”

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