CIPD conference 2010: The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency reduces cost of absence

Since focusing on its health and wellbeing offerings, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) has reduced its absence management costs by £5 million and decreased its average working days lost from 14 to 7.4.

In 2005 the DVLA, which is part of the Department of Transport, was criticised for having the worst sickness absence levels in the UK’s public sector. Its 6,564 employees had an average annual absence of 14 days which was costing the organisation £10.3 million each year.

Judith Whitaker, HR director and chief operating officer of the DVLA, explained the measures taken to rectify the situation during a session called ‘Driving down the cost of absence’ at the 2010 CIPD Annual Conference and Exhibition.

She said: “The first step was writing a strategy. We began by building the business case for wellbeing and creating an inclusive culture.”

Firstly, the DVLA changed its occupational health providerPerks that were provided for staff included: access to a 24/7 employee assistance programme and an onsite physiotherapist for musculoskeletal problems; an onsite Wellpoint machine that instantly measures staff’s blood pressure, weight and body mass index; a cycle-to-work scheme; employee-paid onsite relaxation facilities; an onsite fitness centre; smoking cessation and alcohol awareness sessions; a desk exercise programme; and the ‘In It To Win It’ programme which offers staff with 100% attendance an extra day of holiday.

All of these offerings were communicated to staff through the organisation’s intranet site, as well as through health and wellbeing champions who worked with the HR team and provided feedback from staff.†

Whitaker added: “A ‘Quality of Working Life’ survey was followed up with focus groups on things like employee benefits and work-life balance. But unfortunately, there is nothing to be done about pay. No one will get a pay rise this year.”

The DVLA has also looked at its engagement levels and found a 3.1% improvement in its latest engagement survey. “If you have more engaged staff you will have reduced absence levels,” said Whitaker.

In September 2010 the organisation’s average working days lost had dropped to 7.4 which, according to Whitaker, is significantly below the public sector average.

“Like other public sector organisations we will have to make massive cuts but we can also show that focusing on health and wellbeing is something that we can do,” said Whitaker. “We recognize that this will take five to 10 years to show a marked difference on our staff’s health but we are in it for the long-term.”

Read more on reducing employee absence