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Absence management ‘has become more difficult’ since Covid-19

Although a healthy 85% of UK businesses record employee absence, according to research undertaken on behalf of GRiD, fewer employers (63%) actually measure the impact of sickness absence on their business.

Of these, four in five said that it had become more difficult to record since the onset of Covid-19 as furloughing and working from home have both masked sickness absence.

While it is important to accurately quantify staff absences, the industry body for the group risk protection sector believes that, recording the impact is of equal importance in order to be able to present the case for employee benefits that support both the individual and the business during time away from work.

Of those businesses who do understand the benefits of documenting the impact of staff sickness, recording the number of lost hours or days was the favoured method (44%), followed by calculating the cost of sick pay provision – e.g. Statutory Sick Pay and salary costs (40%). Other practices included analysing the cost of lost productivity (36%), analysing direct costs such as for temporary staff and agency fees (33%), and indirect costs – such as colleagues covering work, learning time, management time (33%).

Katharine Moxham, spokesperson for GRiD said: “The options, preferences, and levels of sophistication in recording absences will always vary from business to business. For example, it’s much easier to record lost productivity in a production line than it is in a service-based industry. However, it’s absolutely vital for all employers to record and analyse their absence data because it enables the employer to trigger a response for employees, such as early intervention support. We know that the longer an individual is off work, the more difficult it can be for them to return which can be hugely disruptive to the employer and their business.”

Via embedded services, such as Employee Assistance Programmes and wellbeing services, group risk benefits (employer-sponsored life assurance, income protection and critical illness) offer comprehensive support that often begins before an employee is off sick by mitigating the chance of the absence in the first place.

Additionally, such benefits can provide ‘in-the-moment’ support for issues such as dealing with debt, consumer issues, neighbour disputes, relationship issues etc. before they escalate and cause an employee to take time off work.

When an employee is off sick, early intervention can begin on day one of absence, or even before, with the employee’s case being assessed by vocational rehabilitation experts who will put forward a tailored programme aimed at achieving a safe and sustainable return to work. This could involve help with mediation, help in identifying reasonable adjustments that could be made by the employer to help facilitate a return to work (such as reduced duties or hours or modifications to equipment/workstations) or even fast access to specialist services such as physiotherapy or talking therapies.

This fast access to help is important in enabling better outcomes but also saves employers money by not having to find and fund this help directly. It also mitigates the chances of the case going to claim and future premium inflation. In fact, group risk insurers’ commitment to offering support for intervention is demonstrated in the fact that some are now offering early-intervention bonuses or cashback on policy premiums for employers who are efficient in alerting them to absences.

The support embedded within many group risk policies extends to the employer too. Line managers can call upon a range of support, such as advice on stress management, conflict resolution, post-trauma support and communicating change.

Employers can also be updated about the employee’s rehabilitation progress, allowing the business to prepare for the employee’s return to work. As the employee becomes ready for a return to work, the individual can be given guidance about liaising with their employer, practical and emotional support, return-to-work interviews and a tailored return-to-work plan, which may include adjustments negotiated with the employer.

Moxham said: “Employers, insurers and advisers need to work together to determine the best approach to supporting staff, as the true measure of any business is how it treats it staff, particularly when they are at their most vulnerable through sickness or injury.

“When an absence is prolonged, group risk benefits provide vital financial support for the individual but the overall premise of the products is now so much more about helping the employee remain in work or supporting a return to work in a safe, reasonable and sustainable manner.”