Tackling Absenteeism

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At some point all employers are faced with the reality of managing staff absenteeism, whether they’re the manager of Real Madrid or the owner of a local warehouse.

For those of you who are football fans you may have seen one of Real’s attackers, Gareth Bale, take to Twitter recently to post a video of a sprinting drill to update fans on his return to fitness. After limping off the field with a calf injury in mid-September his return is being cited as a timely boost for club and country. In high-profile occupations people are surrounded with the services and support to ensure they are as ‘fit for work’ as possible, giving the employer the best chance of keeping absenteeism low. But what about the rest of us mere mortals?

The average UK worker takes four times as many sick days when compared to other countries, and approximately 960,000 employees are off sick for at least a month each year. UK businesses are forced to cover the equivalent of 131 million days lost in absence a year, which is the equivalent of 4.4 days for every worker.

Absence not only causes workload issues for businesses, but it can also lower morale and negatively affect wider staff motivation. The most common causes of long-term absence are acute medical conditions such as mental ill health, including stress, and musculoskeletal injuries or back pain. Stress, anxiety and depression accounted for 15 million days of absence in the UK in 2013.

While of course not all absence can be prevented, sickness levels can be dramatically reduced through relatively simple steps to improve the health and wellbeing of staff. Health cash plans are a cost-effective way of providing benefits that genuinely impact the day-to-day management of employees’ health.

The benefits of a cash plan can range from gym membership discounts, personal health checks and coaching tools, virtual GP helplines and 24 hour counselling and support helplines. Hospital admissions can be covered, alongside dental, optical and physiotherapy treatments, and an employee assistance programme to actively manage stress. Lifestyle benefits are also available through discounted travel and entertainment offers. The wide range of benefit possibilities enables people to make the plans relevant for them.

Organisations that change the way they manage absence report improvements in staff morale and reduced sickness levels. Of organisations that introduced or revised their wellbeing benefits in 2014, 92% reported a positive impact on absence levels, and 88% also saw a positive impact after involving occupational.

Recently, a warehouse owner reported that after implementing a Health Shield cash plan, sickness levels fell from 4.5% to 0.5%. Staff actively engaged in the benefits available, using physio services, going for health check-ups including nutrition testing, and access to cheaper gym membership made it accessible for more people to take exercise. As a result of lower absence levels the company didn’t need to draft in as many temporary staff to cover, saving time in training and significant cost. The company said they had introduced other benefits and incentives before that had not been successful. However, since introducing a cash plan scheme, most of the staff have said thank you, or mentioned how they’ve used the scheme and what a great idea it is. When looking at ways to make a positive impact on the the health and wellbeing of staff, employers can be confident that cash plans are one way of making a valuable difference.

Jonathan Burton is Chief Excecutive of Health Shield