Work absenteeism in focus - Business Works
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Work absenteeism in focus

by Katharine Moxham, Group Risk Development Stress and mental ill health remain one of the major causes of long-term absence for businesses, but this is an improvement on a year ago says Katharine Moxham of Group Risk Development who shares some insight into their new research.

With long-term sickness absence costing UK businesses £4.17 billion a year, it has never been more important to provide support early on to tackle absence. The impact stress and mental ill health can have on staff in terms of morale cannot be underestimated, neither can their negative effects on business productivity.

Our latest research has found that two in five (42%) employers point to stress and mental ill health as a main cause of long-term absence (in excess of six months). Over a third (36%) said that it was a main cause of mid-term absence, while one in six (17%) found it a main cause of short-term absence too.

However, this is an improvement on last year, when almost half (48%) of employers questioned found this to be a main cause of long-term absence, 41% of mid-term and 19% of short-term. This indicates that strategies introduced by employers to address issues like this amongst their workforce are having an impact.

One in ten (13%) have introduced stress counselling, while 7% have line managers trained to spot signs of stress or mental ill health. Flexible working remains ahead of return to work interviews as the most popular initiative for reducing absence and improving attendance, with over a third of employers (36%) now engaging in this measure for this purpose. Employers also continue to use procedural structures to improve attendance, such as absence KPIs and Board-level monitoring.

Acute medical conditions such as heart attack and cancer continue to take their toll on absence rates, with a third (32%) of employers saying these were a main cause of long-term absence and a quarter (24%) for mid-term absence.

Our latest statistics show that the main cause of claims across all three Group Risk products (Group Critical Illness, Group Life, Group Income Protection) was cancer, with the highest for Group Critical Illness (68%), followed by Group Life (46%) and Group Income Protection (24%). Cancer was followed by heart disease (16%) as the main cause of claims for Life Insurance, by heart attack for Critical Illness (10%) and by mental illness for Income Protection (23%).

Promoting flexible working initiatives - including working from home and compressed hours - also ranked highest among employers for improving productivity with nearly a third (29%) of employers saying they were doing this. This makes eminent sense given that home, family and caring issues consistently feature as main causes of absence and achieving a good work/life balance for staff consistently features as a top health and wellbeing priority for employers in our annual research (now in its seventh year).

While it is positive to see strategies to combat absenteeism having an effect on absence rates and reducing the number of employers citing stress and mental ill health as a main cause of long-term absence, businesses must ensure they are thinking about the long-term wellbeing of their staff if they are to protect the business bottom line.

Today's Group Risk proposition focuses as much on mitigating risk and offering support as on paying claims. As well as paying £3.45 million a day in claims in 2014, group risk providers helped more than 1500 employees back to work through active interventions, thus avoiding a long-term absence.

Additional support is also offered in such areas as Employee Assistance Programmes, support for line managers, mental health first aid training, occupational rehabilitation and fast track access to counselling. Such support can help employers with prevention, better access to help and effective rehabilitation, which in turn can help to support their business. These services can be used every single day - even if a claim is never made - and can drive engagement and release money to spend elsewhere.

At the end of the day, a business grows on the people behind the ideas, products / services and their delivery, so ensuring that the benefits package supports staff retention, morale and productivity as well as attendance is key.

Group Risk Development (GRiD) is the trade body for the group risk industry. For more information, please visit:

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