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July 6, 2022

Reducing sickness absence makes for healthier business

The latest UK Labour Market Report has shown a significant spike in the sickness absence rate.

With days lost to sickness or injury hitting nearly 150 million, what can you do to help keep your staff healthier, happier and more productive?

The latest data from the Office for National Statistics has shown that in 2021 sickness absence hit its highest rate since 2010.

Whilst it's important to factor COVID-19 into the equation, it's nonetheless worrying that both public and private sector organisations continue to pay a heavy price for illness and injury.

Britain's Healthiest Workplace, an extensive employee wellbeing survey carried out by private medical insurance specialist, Vitality, makes for stark reading.

It found that productivity has fallen over recent years with businesses now losing the equivalent of 38 otherwise productive days annually.

Employees lost 14.6% of their working hours .

The bill? £91.9 billion

The cost of physical and mental health related absence, coupled with presenteeism - working whilst unwell - was put at a staggering £91.9 billion.

Of that astonishing sum around three-quarters could be accounted for by unhealthy lifestyle choices and mental health issues.

absence management mental health

The Chartered Institute of Personnel Development's (CIPD) Health & Wellbeing at Work 2022 report adds further detail.

It found that mental ill health, such as depression and anxiety, was the cause of 57% of absences lasting four weeks or more.

It was also caused 32% of short-term absences of up to four weeks.

At 46%, musculoskeletal injuries were the second most common cause of long-term absence and - aside from minor illness and COVID-19 related issues - the biggest culprit when it came to short-term absences up to four weeks.

Stress was found to be another key factor, accounting for 32% of short-term and 38% of long-term absences.


Leading causes of long term sickness absence

  • Mental ill health
  • Muscoloskeletal injuries (eg back and neck pain, repetive strain injury)
  • Stress
  • Acute medical conditions
  • Long COVID (lasting more than 12 weeks

Leading causes of short term sickness absence

  • Minor illness (eg colds, stomach upsets, headaches)
  • COVID-19
  • Muscoloskeletal injuries
  • Mental ill health
  • Stress

(source: CIPD, Health & Wellbeing at Work 2022)


Acting on absence

There are actions that businesses can take to help minimise the days lost to sickness and injury.

In doing so they demonstrate that they care about the physical and mental wellbeing of their staff.

Just over half of all the organisations surveyed by the CIPD reported taking a strategic approach to employee wellbeing.

Of those 27% reported improved productivity, against just 5% who didn't.

Wellbeing strategies may embrace a variety of interventions and employee benefits.

Private Medical Insurance

Many businesses choose to help their staff gain access to earlier diagnosis and treatment through company private medical insurance (PMI).

In doing so, they provide their employees with a much valued benefit - and the tools to help them stay in or return to work that much quicker.

Take, for example, musculoskeletal injuries.

absence management physiotherapy

Alongside, anti-inflammatory and pain relief, one of the most heavily prescribed and effective treatments is physiotherapy.

The NHS itself concedes that "Waiting lists for NHS physiotherapy can be long."

The target is for patients to be seen by a specialist within 18 weeks, when treatment can then start. This is true for other GP-referred treatments

If you're an employee in pain and unable to work, that's a long time, both for your physical and financial health. If you're an employer it can add up to a significant loss of productivity.

Accelerated recovery

In contrast, through group PMI, a specialist practitioner can be accessed within days, accelerating diagnosis and treatment.

Whilst the benefits of PMI will vary depending upon both insurer and policy, most offer cover for cancer, cardiac conditions and mental health issues. That would include specialist treatments such as radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

Diagnostic procedures like MRI and CTI scans are also typically covered with other benefits often including access to nurse-led telephone advice and online information services.

Given that it's currently harder to see a general practitioner in the UK than in any other leading western country, access to a private GP is a benefit that many would covet.

Another bonus for employers is that, whilst delivering a valued benefit, thanks to the "bulk buying" which lies at its heart, group private medical insurance is a relatively low cost addition to payroll.

In addition, as well as promoting healthier living and helping accelerate recovery from illness or injury, it signals that an employer cares about the wellbeing of their staff.

Group Income Protection

Group income protection insurance provides employees with a guaranteed monthly income should sickness or injury prevent them from working.

This provides invaluable reassurance, especially in a volatile economic climate when household bills are surging.

Again provision of cover demonstrates a duty of care to staff and adds value to salary packages, helping an employer retain and recruit the best talent.

But income protection insurance can also play a role in a business's absence management strategy. That's because policies can include cover for specialist rehabilitation and counselling services, helping speed recovery.

Health Cash Plans

Health cash plans are even lower-cost than group private health insurance, but they play a different role in helping employees maintain everyday health.

Many plans also include health screening and various advisory services which can help prevent or nip in the bud an array of illnesses and conditions

Other benefits can include specialist consultations, preventative care and treatments such as chiropractic and osteopathic services.

absence management optical care

They’re designed to help with the everyday healthcare costs such as dental check-ups, new glasses and physiotherapy. 

By introducing a company health cash plan you can help your staff get treatment when they need it, not when they can afford it.

That can stop health issues escalating whilst prompt treatment means a more prompt return to work.

Many plans also include health screening and various advisory services which can help prevent or nip in the bud an array of illnesses and conditions

Other benefits can include specialist consultations, preventative care and treatments such as chiropractic and osteopathic services.

Some plans offer alternative therapies including acupuncture and homeopathic remedies.

Preventative interventions

Many also include health screening and various advisory services which can help prevent or nip in the bud an array of illnesses and conditions

Other benefits can include specialist consultations, preventative care and treatments such as chiropractic and osteopathic services.

Alternative therapies including acupuncture and homeopathic remedies may also be covered.

absence management smoking cessation

Health and wellbeing services can also be used to encourage your employees to become healthier and fitter by offering advice and support on giving up smoking and managing weight and stress.

They also offer the employer tremendous flexibility as premiums can be wholly paid by the business, part-subsidised or simply offered to staff to pay for themselves.

Again they’ll benefit from the “bulk purchasing” benefits inherent in such plans.

Employee Assistance Programmes

Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) offer a more holistic solution, assisting employees in how they manage not just their health, but wider lives.

They achieve this though mental health and wellbeing assessments and provision of counselling, guidance and expert advice. This can support staff as they tackle a range of issues, such as debt and household finances, family relationships, bereavement, child care, anxiety and stress.

Many programmes also offer access to online portals featuring information libraries and hosting a range of self-help tools.

Aside from provision of core counselling services, EAPS are the most popular employee wellbeing benefit provided by employers. The CIPD survey found that some 74% of organisations offer an EAP, with 72% providing them to all rather than selected employees.

Want to better manage absence?

Interested to learn more how about how group private medical insurance and other policies, plans and programmes can inform your absence management strategy?

Our specialist advisor, Amy Speed would be happy to offer a free, no obligation consultation tailored to your businesses needs, aims and objectives.

For an informal discussion about the options available to help make your business healthier and more productive, you can call her on 0161 304 5053.

Alternatively you can email her by clicking here.