Rochdale Boroughwide Housing reduces absence

Rochdale Boroughwide Housing has cut staff sickness absence rates by more than six days per employee per year after introducing a range of benefits to tackle the problem.

One of the solutions was to introduce an absence reporting system, which requires employees to inform trained nurses of their absence rather than line managers.

The housing organisation, which was set up by Rochdale Council to manage its 15,000 properties, inherited high sickness absence levels of 17 days a year for each employee when it was established in 2002.

In the organisation’s first year, it managed to cut this by two days, before reviewing its absence management policies and introducing the absence reporting scheme, provided by Active Health Partnership, in 2004.

Gareth Swarbrick, business development director, said: "From our review, the clear thing that came through was that the best way of [dealing with] absence was to tackle it from day one and make sure employees were getting good health advice immediately they became ill. [It was also important] for managers to have accurate information as to when employees were likely to be back."

He added that having to report absence to trained nurses has meant that fewer employees were tempted to exaggerate or make up illnesses. Swarbrick said: "What we know is when someone phones up to report an absence, if they try to pull the wool over the nurses’ eyes, they’re going to be found out. From the figures that we’ve seen, I think that’s definitely happened."

The scheme helped the organisation take a consistent approach to managing absence.

It has also introduced a healthcare cash plan and extended its flexible working policies to all employees. It is now in the process of launching a childcare voucher scheme for staff after employees expressed a demand.