Putting group risk at the centre of an absence management strategy

Recent findings from the CBI/Pfizer’s absence and workplace health survey 2010, show that since its last survey in 2008, absence fell to an average of 6.4 days per employee in 2009 at a cost to the UK economy of £17bn. Although, long-term absence accounted for less than one in ten of all episodes of absence in 2009, it represented more than a fifth of the total working time lost and cost the UK economy a staggering £3.7bn.

Given these statistics, it’s not surprising that recent research conducted by Aviva found that nearly two thirds (61%) of employers feel managing long-term absence is an issue for their business. One in six (16%) acknowledges that long-term sickness can have a devastating effect on team morale and a further 13% claim it causes them a major staffing headache. Worryingly, only 6% of staff feel that their company works hard to support staff back into the workplace when colleagues go on sick leave for two weeks or more.

Moreover, almost one in four businesses (23%) claim that recent economically difficult times have taken a lasting toll on employee stress levels, which in-turn has impacted their sickness absence rates. This is a view supported by the CBI/Pfizer’s absence and workplace health research, which highlights that mental health, and musculoskeletal issues continue to be the main causes of long-term absence.

Aviva’s research also reveals that eight out of ten employees (79%) feel that if they are unable to work long-term, they couldn’t get by on less than half salary. In reality, just 40% of employers surveyed offer this level of financial support to those on long-term sick leave, meaning many employees (79%) say they’d return to work from sickness absence before they’re 100% fit. While, getting employees back to work promptly should be a main objective for companies – and indeed is actively encouraged through the Government’s new Fit Note scheme, returning to work prematurely from an illness or injury without the appropriate support could be detrimental to an employee’s health. And, from a business perspective employers will reap few benefits from such “presenteeism”.

It’s not rocket science to see that all these issues could be addressed by the provision of group risk benefits. Yet, private medical insurance is still often considered to be the lynch pin for an employers’ sickness absence strategy. While private medical insurance undoubtedly has an invaluable role to play in the management of short-term absence, with its strong abilities to aid early intervention and proven rehabilitation capabilities, there’s a strong argument for group income protection to move up the agenda.

Moreover, by complementing group income protection with occupational health services, workplace wellness initiatives and private health insurance, employers can form a robust targeted solution that helps aid prevention, facilitate early intervention and rehabilitation while also offering financial support to both them and their employers.

While the CBI/Pfizer’s research clearly shows that employers have taken a step in the right direction, it’s evident that benefit provision still predominantly focuses on treating problems once they have occurred. To help reduce absence further, we need to work together with employers to demonstrate the benefits of holistic solutions that also address the root cause of the problem.