Case Study: Royal Mail reduces sickness absence

Five years ago, Royal Mail was losing money and often offering a poor service to customers, not least because staff absence rates were typically high at around 7% a year and costing an estimated £1 million a day. In a bid to tackle the problem, it introduced a range of incentives and health and wellbeing initiatives that helped cut absence rates to 4.5% after three years, bringing 3,600 employees back to work each day and saving the group nearly £228 million, according to an analysis by the London School of Economics in May 2008.

The initiatives included introducing health screening and fast access to occupational health services, such as physiotherapy, and other support schemes such as an employee assistance programme (EAP). This was backed up with the introduction of health clinics at 90 sites and the launch of fitness centres in larger operations, including a £350,000 gym at the Mount Pleasant sorting office in London where staff are helped to get fit and back to work. Dr Steve Boorman, chief medical adviser at Royal Mail, believes the in-house fitness centre is particularly valuable. “People can lose contact with the workplace when they are on long-term sick leave.

“Coming in and seeing their mates can be part of the recovery process, as can seeing other sick employees making progress.” High-profile prize draws in 2004/05 to win cars and holidays as rewards for good attendance also helped reduce absence dramatically, although these had a limited shelf life. “Like any communication exercise it started to decay after while and made less of an impact, which is why we now focus on wellbeing programmes,” adds Boorman.

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