Hertfordshire County Council aims to improve employee absence rates by offering rehabilitation benefits to all 10,000 employees.
The council offers benefits such as an onsite occupational health unit and rapid referrals from line managers, which also help the organisation to understand underlying issues or changes in an employee’s illness. The employee is then referred to their GP and contacted by their line manager bi-weekly.
Each case is treated on an individual basis, so the rapidity of the process will differ according to each employee’s needs, says Celeste Igolen-Robinson, HR manager at Hertfordshire County Council. “Employees requiring rehabilitation are always given health review meetings and referrals, but it is always dependent on their situation,” she explains. ”However, issues such as stress and musculoskeletal injuries always have immediate referrals.”
The council’s rehabilitation benefits also include reduced working hours, phased returns to work or working from home or a different site. An internal study, conducted in 2014, found that musculoskeletal-related absences decreased by 1,000 between February 2014 and January 2015.
In part, this is due to a targeted intervention programme with physiotherapy sessions offered to workers in physical roles such as catering.
The council has a clear strategy for helping employees return to work. Igolen-Robinson says: “We hold return-to-work meetings on the employee’s first day back, along with a risk assessment to help manage the process of their return through reasonable adjustments.”
It also has a policy that staff are not paid for the first two days they require off work due to illness. This was introduced in 2012 to help reduce absenteeism.
Of the 52 cases of long-term sickness absence that Hertfordshire County Council experienced in 2014, 31 employees returned to work and 21 retired because of ill health, resignation or dismissal.
The council also revamped its rehabilitation and group risk strategy in 2010 to make this clearer to staff.
Igolen-Robinson says: “Rehabilitation benefits boost morale, show employers support their staff and reduce recruitment costs.”