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It pays to get tough on sickness


Employers that both train line managers appropriately and introduce tougher targets in relation to staff sickness absence are a third more likely to reduce non-attendance rates than those that fail to take action.
These are the key findings of a survey among 454 organisations undertaken by UK manufacturing member body EEF and health insurance provider, Westfield Health.
The study revealed that between 2007 and 2010, there has been a steady decline in sickness absence levels, with the average employee taking five days leave due to illness last year compared with 6.7 days four years ago.
In 2010, an all time high of 45% of workers took no days off through sickness at all, although the effects of the uncertain economic climate are likely to have played a role.
But given the year-on-year improvement in absence rates, the report pointed to a "clear correlation" between those organisations that had put strategies in place to train line managers in dealing with the issue backed up by tougher targets.
More than two thirds of respondents claimed to be hitting targets in this area compared to half in 2007, while those who introduced training were a third more likely to reduce sickness absence, the study indicated.
Professor Sayeed Kahn, the EEF's chief medical adviser, said it was clear that "doing the basics" such as training line managers and GPS in managing sickness absence more effectively "pays dividends".
"The continued downward trend in sickness absence is welcome recognition of efforts by companies and government to get people back to work. In particular, it is striking that the companies who have proactively contacted their GPs to discuss adjusting people’s working arrangements have seen the highest level of response," he added.
As a result, it was "vital" that the coalition government continued to fund GP training in health and work issues, Kahn said.
One in five respondents also said that the introduction of the 'fit note' in April last year had helped them to reduce absence, while 28% believed it had helped return-to-work discussions. But only 17% felt that it was useful to help them make the necessary adjustments in order to ensure that employees returned to work more quickly.

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