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Managing staff absence: striking a healthy balance

At this time of year, it often feels that there are two kinds of employee – the ones who call in sick for the slightest sniffle, and those who drag themselves into work when you can see at a glance that they would be better off resting up at home.

It is hard to know the best way to proceed when illness strikes. Should you brave it and head into the office, or should you stay home and keep your germs to yourself? According to a survey by AXA PPP, 32% of managers would prefer that employees stay home when they are unwell, and 28% said that people should take as long a time as necessary for their treatment and recuperation. But, confusingly, a similar proportion (29%) said they are frustrated when staff take time off work for medical appointments.
Almost half of bosses, though, said that it was preferable to have a quick diagnosis and information about how to get better as this would improve employee productivity.

There is no doubt that having healthy staff is a key part of improving productivity, and according to the survey, a quarter of bosses said that quick referrals to consultants and treatment would be beneficial. What’s more, 38% of managers said that providing their staff with access to healthcare benefits would improve sickness absence levels and help to encourage a healthy workforce.

Chris Horlick, distribution director at AXA PPP healthcare, said: “Time away from work due to sickness absence and medical appointments can be frustrating – both for employees and for employers. Seven out of ten of the bosses we surveyed agreed that providing healthcare benefits across the workforce can help reduce sickness absence, improve health and aid employee retention yet, in our experience, employers tend to provide medical insurance to senior managers only.” AXA has just launched a healthcare plan called AccessHEALTH, which is aimed at offering cover for the wider workforce at a lower cost than standard private medical insurance.

A sound health scheme is a help, but there are other methods that might support staff, too. According to research by Group Risk Development (GRID), employers are using a range of approaches to improve attendance. More than a third (36%) of companies surveyed said they had introduced flexible working initiatives, allowing staff to plan their work schedules, while 28% used return to work interviews.

Katharine Moxham, spokesperson for GRID, said: “It’s important that strategies to manage absence are kept up, and that rates aren’t allowed to increase as it really will have a significant impact on business costs in the long-run … Flexible working can help to retain talented staff, allowing them to balance home commitments as well as focus on work.”

It is certainly in employer’s interests to try to improve matters when it comes to absence – CEBR research suggests that long term sickness costs private sector business as much as £4.17bn a year, a figure that is set to reach £4.81bn by 2030. Managing absence is a tough balancing act. And according to research by Group Risk Development, 57% of businesses said absence cost them up to 4% of payroll.

To find out how IHC can help your company manage absence, contact Chris Trevorah, 020 7427 0656

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