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Sickness Absence – The State of Play

Sickness Absence

Jackie is an Occupational Health Professional, working with organisations to help prevent work-related illness and injury.

Jackie spends much of her time in businesses, encouraging safe working practices, looking at how employees work and how they could work better, monitoring the health of employees and supporting the management of sickness absence.

Keeping HR Simple have worked with Jackie on several occasions and used her services ourselves to enable us to support a pregnant member of our team.

We asked Jackie to look at some of the copious amounts data around sickness absence and present it in a way that we can understand and use to improve the general health in our workplaces and support our employees with sickness absence.

Jackie Stone – Journeyman Occupational Health

It is estimated that 137.3 million working days were lost due to sickness or injury in the United Kingdom in 2016 (ONS 2017).  This is the equivalent to almost a full working week for every worker in the United Kingdom.

The highest causes of absence in 2016 were:

  • Minor illness i.e. coughs, colds
  • Musculoskeletal issues i.e. back and neck pain, upper limb issues, muscular strain
  • Mental health problems i.e. stress, depression, anxiety and other psychiatric conditions

(ONS 2017)

Encouragingly, the ONS 2017 report also found that sickness absence in 2016 was at its lowest since official records had started in 1993 and that overall rates of sickness absence were half what they were in 1993.

In general, it appears that sickness absence rates are higher among female workers and there are many suggested reasons for this, including incorrect recording of the reason for absence.

The trend though is a decline which could mean we are providing a better environment for our workforce using, among other methods, the advice of Occupational Health, HR and Health and Safety Professionals.

Top Tips from our Occupational Health professional:

  • Discuss the benefits of occupational health involvement with your employee before you refer! This will help to allay their fears and reassure them that occupational health involvement is for their benefit as well as the business;
  • Early referral to occupational health for advice and medical guidance for those employees with health concerns that are affecting, or could affect, their work is good practice;
  • When referring an employee to occupational health, ensure that you ask appropriate questions so that you get the correct feedback from the occupational health professional. The better the questions, the better the information you get back, helping you to manage and support your employee effectively and appropriately;
  • Provide your occupational health professional with as much information as you can regarding your employee’s current circumstances, their job role and any support that you have already put in place to help the employee;
  • If your employee is absent from work, agree to keep in regular contact; managers often worry that they might be seen to be pestering an employee but employees who are on long-term sick can feel isolated and out of touch with their colleagues, this can then have a negative effect when the employee is looking to return to work;
  • Once you receive your occupational health report, make time to discuss it with the employee and agree how any recommendations or adaptations might be managed and if they can be supported;
  • If anything in the occupational health report is unclear, ask for clarification, it saves time in the long run;
  • Occupational health services aren’t just for helping manage sickness absence, they can also support employee well-being initiatives, health surveillance requirements and provide proactive advice on keeping the workforce and the workplace healthy.

The Simple Take Is: Look after your employees health and well being and they will be more inclined to look after your business


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