You may have not realised it, but your generous sick pay scheme may not be helping. An extensive and prolonged sick pay scheme may sound attractive to any prospective employee and you may think that it is helping staff retention, but actually it may be having the opposite effect…

Why may you ask? Let’s consider the following points…

  • Some staff see Sickness Entitlement, as just that, an Entitlement, and will take the time off sick as a top up to their annual leave.
  • One-third of people given sick notes are signed off for four weeks or more, by which time 20 per cent will never return to work.
  • Further evidence suggests once staff are signed off for six months, 80 per cent will never return.

But have you considered the more hidden aspects of sickness absence? By this, I mean the effects on your remaining staff’s morale and increased stress levels, as a result of increased workload to cover the absent employee, not forgetting the possible reduction in work performance, as a result.

Other hidden costs could include the time taken by Management to deal with the sickness absence, whether it be organising staff cover, dealing with payroll, re-organising workload, not forgetting other costs, such as staff recruitment, training, uniform, rent/rates for office space, heating, electricity and other costs such as equipment/computer etc.

So what is the solution?

There will always be genuine sickness absence, but to minimise the above costs, you may need to consider reviewing your sickness absence policy, to amend the wording to remove Sickness Absence ‘Entitlement’.

The section in your policy concerning Occupational Health may need a review with regards when to refer a case to Occupational Health. In my view, any case that is not planned surgery, should be referred to Occupational Health so that the case can be managed from an early stage, with a referral occurring ideally within two weeks absence of the absence starting. Any mental health absences should also be referred, to ensure that the employee is getting the right help and support, with signposting to appropriate services, if this is not the case. We have had cases that have been absent for 5 years, yes, you read that right, without any input from Management or Occupational Health.

You may think that an absent employee is not costing you any money, but you would be wrong to assume this! They will cost your company, not only the costs mentioned above, but they will also be accruing annual leave, during their absence, which means a minimum of 28 days, and possibly even more if you are kind and give them additional holidays over the legal minimum requirement, which will have to be paid pro rata for each year of absence.

Whilst staff are away from work, they are de-skilling, so may require updates and training upon their return. Yet another additional cost!

The Government are reviewing sickness absence certification, but we are concerned that there is not enough focus on using Occupational Health providers. Only time will tell if they realise that there is are many fully qualified medical professionals in Occupational Health ready to assist business with managing their sickness absence.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government extended Self Certification to 28 days for the month of January 2022. It is my belief that this was a ‘dummy run’ to see if it would work, which it did, and that to save the crumbling GP service, it is highly likely to become the norm going forward, with Occupational Health being asked to provide comments and a report of the length of expected absence, in the absence of a GP Statement of Fitness for Work.

Last year, an incredible 186 million plus working days were lost due to sickness or injury, with soaring numbers absent for extended periods due to mental health issues or behaviour disorders.

So in summary, not dealing with sickness absence can be costly to your company. The cost of a referral to Occupational Health is a small percentage of the actual cost of absence and your staff will feel more valued and that you have shown care for them, by getting Occupational Health Support.