Report suggests slow start for Fit for Work assessment service

With the seminar season and the EU referendum now behind us, it is time to revisit some technical reading. And the first item on the summer browsing list is the 2016 Sickness absence survey produced by EEF in association with Jelf Employee Benefits. (For those who wish to read the report please follow this link.)

The report is a mine of useful information, and this year the principal theme is how a healthy workforce can be the key to better productivity. It is clear that the UK has a problem here. Yet the Sickness absence survey strikes a more positive note when it states: “Employees in good health can be up to three times more productive than those in poor health; they can experience fewer motivational problems; they are more resilient to change, and they are more likely to be engaged with the priorities of the business.”

So with this in mind, it follows that employers should seek to get the maximum usage out of their company sponsored benefits package – and indeed those tools provided by the state – to achieve this end. But the evidence to date suggests that this latter grouping is not yet delivering all that could be expected.

Take Fit for Work. This new (and free-to-use) assessment service became nationally available last year, yet the take-up and usage of the arrangement has been rather slow. Indeed the Sickness absence survey found that of the 306 employers surveyed, only 17 had used the service, and not one of those referrals was made by the employee’s family doctor. This is more than concerning given that the service is established on the basis that GPs will make the bulk of referrals (something that employers cannot do until four weeks absence has been exceeded by the employee).

And this is not the only worrying statistic when looking at initiatives taken by the state to reduce sickness absence. The much-discussed fit note (which replaced the better-known sick note) has been available for most of this decade, yet just 13% of employers agree that the service has enabled those absent from work to return to the workplace earlier.

Both the above initiatives are dependent on the engagement of GPs with the aims and delivery of the service, and the involvement of employers to take steps to help the employee back into the workplace quickly and efficiently. The obvious conclusion of the above findings is that this is only happening as the exception rather than the rule.

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Yet in a post-Brexit world it will be ever more important for the UK to improve productivity and engagement to ensure that Britain can successfully compete and win contracts with other geographical areas. It is therefore really important that employers seek to embrace and embed such tools within their wider health and absence management offerings.

We would therefore encourage employers to undertake a review of their procedures in such areas, and establish strict protocols to ensure that their benefits offerings and state support work seamlessly together to produce the best outcome for both employer and employee alike.