Re-evaluating your sickness policy for 2024

Over the past few years, the subject of physical health and sickness has risen up the corporate priority list. The key impetus for this change is, of course, the global pandemic, which caused a wave of illness across the world, and forced businesses to instil new and evolving strategies in order to survive. However, whilst the pandemic may seem like a lifetime ago, health and wellbeing is still hugely in a state of flux...
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HR Grapevine | Executive Grapevine International Ltd
Re-evaluating your sickness policy for 2024
Health and wellbeing is a C-suite priority in 2024

Why you should be re-evaluating your sickness policy in 2024

Over the past few years, the subject of physical health and sickness has risen up the corporate priority list. The key impetus for this change is, of course, the global pandemic, which caused a wave of illness across the world, and forced businesses to instil new and evolving strategies in order to survive. However, whilst the pandemic may seem like a lifetime ago, health and wellbeing is still hugely in a state of flux.

According to recent CIPD data, the average rate of employee absence now stands at 7.8 days per employee per year, this is a considerable increase since the CIPD last reported this from data collected before the pandemic in October/November 2019, at 5.8 days per employee. Increasingly worrying for some industries is that in the public sector, the rate of sickness jumps to 10.6 per employee.

In addition, Access PeopleHR gathered the data of absences recorded from over 2,000 small and medium-sized businesses to track sickness leave. Nationally, the report revealed that there’s been an increase of 45% in sickness absence rates since 2019. Each business recorded an average of 133 sick leave days - up 30% compared to previous years.

Why is sickness rising so significantly across the board?

In short, worker health is still vastly affected by a range of different impetus. According to new survey findings from Simplyhealth, stress was found to be the most significant factor for both short and long-term absence. Over 76% of respondents to the research reported stress-related absence in their organisation in the past year. Heavy workloads remain by far the most common cause of stress-related absence at 67%, followed by management style at 37%.

A strong sickness policy can be an effective tool in managing absences in the workplace

Kate Palmer | Employment Services Director at Peninsula

Further findings from Health and Wellbeing at Work research analysed trends in sickness absence rates and employee health and wellbeing among 918 organisations, representing 6.5 million employees. It was conducted in March and April 2023.

The top causes of short-term absence were minor illnesses at 94%, musculoskeletal injuries at 45% and mental ill health at 39%. Reasons for long-term absence were led by mental ill health at 63%, acute medical conditions, such as stroke or cancer at 51% and musculoskeletal injuries at 51%.

The 2023 findings also showed that over a third 37% of organisations reported Covid-19 as still being a significant cause of short-term absence.

Sickness policies should be reviewed regularly

Why businesses should review their sickness policies in 2024

As the data proves, levels of sickness within the corporate world show worrying trends of bubbling over into crisis. Whilst many organisations are struggling with ongoing economic volatility, the worrying prospect of ineffective sickness policies should be a wake-up call for those who believe the status quo hasn’t changed.

This begs the question, how can organisations augment their sickness policies to ensure they’re viable for the coming year? Once again, we turn to the CIPD’s research for guidance. The research shows that organisations are attempting to address health and wellbeing issues overall, through a range of support.

If the correct procedure is not followed, the policy should make it clear what steps will be taken if rules are abused

Kate Palmer | Employment Services Director at Peninsula

Most (69%) offer occupational sick pay leave schemes for all employees, while 82% provide an employee assistance programme (EAP). Overall, 53% of organisations surveyed have a stand-alone wellbeing strategy, a slight increase from the previous survey in 2021 (50%), but significantly higher than in 2019 (40%).

This is, as Kate Palmer, Employment Services Director at Peninsula tells HR Grapevine, a pressing issue for most businesses. “A strong sickness policy can be an effective tool in managing absences in the workplace – everyone knows what they need to do if they are unwell, what they will be paid for, and what might happen if they have repeated time off, which prevents conflicts and confusion among the workforce.”

Palmer notes that a sickness policy should outline the practical steps an organisation requires its staff to follow when they are unwell, including who they should contact, when, and how. “If the correct procedure is not followed, the policy should make it clear what steps will be taken if rules are abused,” she adds.

“If an organisation sets trigger points, which will look to address absences if they hit a certain level within a defined period, these should also be set out in the policy. It should also detail the process for long-term absences which will usually include the holding of a welfare meeting, obtaining medical evidence, the process for considering any reasonable adjustments, and if it comes to it, a procedure for dismissal where appropriate. Setting out the pay an employee will receive when they are unwell, whether that is SSP or contractual sick pay, is also important as it means that there are no surprises come payday,” she continues.

Additional issues to consider when revamping sickness policies for 2024

As with all policies, a sickness policy should be reviewed regularly to make sure that it is working well for the organisation. As Palmer asks, is it written so that everyone can understand it? Also, an organisation should consider what the overall absence levels are like in the organisation and whether the absence policy could be amended to address any specific problems identified.

“Who, for example, must an employee contact when they are unwell and how should contact be made? It is best to state that a phone call is required from an employee when reporting an absence rather than a text message or email,” she says.


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