Insight | Reducing sickness in the workplace: is introducing wellness activities enough?

Reducing sickness in the workplace: is introducing wellness activities enough?
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Reducing sickness in the workplace: is introducing wellness activities enough?


Andy Shettle

Chief Product Officer

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Recent investigations into employee health and wellbeing showed that there is a correlation between health, wellbeing and performance. According to the Office for National Statistics, there are an estimated 137.3 million working days lost annually due to sickness or injury in the UK. This is the lowest recorded figure since statistics began in 1993.

It would be pleasing to think the number of days is decreasing because generally, as a nation we’re fitter and healthier, but analysts have suggested this is down to improved strategies in dealing with absenteeism, investment in wellness activities and a greater understanding of the main issues. However, sickness, stress and other illnesses can’t always be avoided, so it’s key that an organisation has a solid strategy and system to manage absence.

The Challenge

Over the years, from working with our customers, we've noticed employees are staying off work sick longer than needed because there is little-to-no management or control of the overall absence. In many cases, sickness is managed by the employee's line manager and supported by HR, and long-term sickness cases are managed more closely by the HR team. Many businesses are still heavily reliant on spreadsheets for case management; such as employee sickness.

Processes such as whether an absentee has a fit note from the doctor, how long the note recommends the employee needs off work, when the employee is due back to work and whether meetings need to happen between HR and the employee is all information vital to effectively managing an employee sickness case. Simply keeping track of open and closed cases can be a burden, let alone trying to stay on top of deadlines for each stage of the case; information needs collating and documenting by line managers, kept up-to-date and then shared between the relevant parties.

The fallacy of ‘free spreadsheets’

Using spreadsheets is technically ‘free’; however, the data sits there doing nothing. Managers and HR Directors have limited visibility when cases need to be progressed to the next step in the workflow, or if items need escalating and even more alarming, just the number of sickness cases open or under review.

Managing cases on spreadsheets also relies on parties checking the spreadsheet regularly and noting relevant dates/timescales on calendars to ensure nothing is missed. A missed email from HR to a line manager could have a detrimental effect on a case and could cause unnecessary delays; such as when the employee returns to work. Missing deadlines etc. could also be costly for the business and leave them at risk of employment tribunals.

One of the main ways an organisation can start to reduce the cost of sickness; is by investing in a process to help reduce it. A system that works around your HR policy is a great place to start, and by using automated workflows to determine the different steps needed, you can make sure different departments are notified and know exactly what they need to do and when they need to action it by.

Ultimately, by supporting employees to get back to work and by following process is key to both the business, and for the employee to know they are being supported and valued. The small ‘human’ touches can also mean a great deal to an employee off on long-term sick, such as a catch-up call between the employee and line manager. Keeping the employee in the loop, and by utilising a system to diarise these little, but hugely beneficial tasks is a win-win.

If you could save just 2% of your sickness bill, what would that look like to your organisation?