Headlines: November 25th, 2009

Following publication of a report on wellbeing in the NHS, the Charted Institute of Personnel and Development has called on all public sector employers to find out how much working time is lost to absence and how much it costs. “Unless you have good data on employee absence it is impossible to identify if you have a problem and how to address it.”

The NHS has the highest absence levels in the public sector with 11 days per employee per year. The NHS wellbeing report estimates that 33.4 million working days are lost each year. This is equivalent to an extra 14,900 staff. The report author, Dr Steve Boorman of Royal Mail, believes that the NHS can reduce current rates of sickness absence by a third, and doing so would mean an estimated annual direct cost saving of £555 million. Research confirmed marked variations between NHS organisations and there was strong feedback that staff are not convinced that their health and well-being is seen as important to their employer.

The report makes a number of recommendations including the setting up of a prevention-focused health and well-being strategy for all staff. There is also a recognition that there is no point in providing employees with subsidised gym membership or advice on healthy eating and exercise if they dread coming to work because they have not received adequate training, are bullied by their manager or are drowning under their workload.

The CIPD believes that the report has missed a trick by not providing any specific recommendations on how to improve absence management policy and practice. It believes that people management skills must be included as a critical element of the development of all professions involved in the delivery of public services. NHS bodies need to review how they manage absence if real progress on reducing employee absence levels is to be sustained across the health and wider public sector.

The CIPD also argues for a balance in absence management policies and practices in all public bodies between providing support to help employees stay in and return to work and taking consistent and firm action against employees that take advantage of organisations’ occupational sick pay schemes.