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Sickness Absence: are you asking the right questions?

Several reports over the last few years have noted that sickness absence costs the UK economy tens of billions of pounds.  It’s certainly hard to deny the impact an employee being off sick can have on an employer (large or small). 

The role may have to be covered temporarily, either at the cost of a temporary worker, or by other members of the team.  Management and/or HR time is taken up with keeping in contact, making home visits and conducting return to work interviews.

Based on several enquiries I’ve had from clients recently, sickness absence (particularly long term absence) is still a serious issue employers are grappling with.  Just today, as an example, I spoke with a national retailer who have a senior manager off sick with stress ahead of a major restructure of the business taking place.  How are they going to play it?

Other recent conversations I’ve had with clients have involved me giving advice on getting the best out of Occupational Health referrals.  In particular, how to improve the quality of the medical advice you get back.  A medical view is almost always essential when managing long term absence, but often clients tell me the advice is ‘woolly’, avoids the issue, or provides no certainty on which they can make a decision.

The key here is asking the right questions! 

It seems obvious but it’s amazing how many employers miss this.  How you frame your questions in the OH referral will usually determine the quality of the advice you get back.  It’s certainly not a good idea to rely solely on your standard tick box referral form.  You need to be tailoring the referral to the individual’s circumstances, the needs of the business and what you want the outcome to be.  Use the notes section on the form. Include a job description for the employee.  Give some detail on the background from the businesses perspective, rather than relying solely on the employee to explain the situation in their words (which may not give a balanced view).

Only then will you maximise the chances of the medical advice being what you need to make good sound business decisions about how best to manage the employee’s absence.  I’m working with a number of clients at the moment to do just that and hopefully remove a small amount from the billions of pounds absence is costing employers.  Clearly, avoiding absences in the first place is best and removes the need to manage absence at all, but that’s for another blog!

Posted on July 28, 2015

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