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The sickness that is crippling business

As corporate culture has changed, the reasons for absenteeism have changed, making the role of the healthcare consultant more sophisticated and specialist. If you thought this area was of mar- ginal interest – think again – absenteeism could be as critical to business as cashflow!

Time lost:

187 million days

The Focus on Absence 2000 survey, recently published by the CBI and sponsored by PPP Healthcare, showed that time lost due to absence in the workplace was 7.8 days per employee in 1999. If this figure were applied to the whole UK workforce, this would give a total of 187 million days lost to industry per year.

Direct costs:

£10.5bn per year

In 1999, the average cost of absence per employee rose to £438. If this figure were applied to the whole UK workforce, this would give an average cost of £10.5-£13bn to the industry.

Indirect costs to industry: Three to four times direct costs

When asked to report on indirect cost of absence, few organisations were able to respond. However, where employers were able to put a price on the indirect cost, this was typically three to four times the dir-ect costs.

The numbers are horrendous. More worrying is that the true cost of absenteeism is inaccurate, mainly due to inadequate management.

A lack of discipline in recording causes of illness exacerbates what is fundamentally a massive drain on the resources of industry and Government.

Most sickness absence is short-term sickness, with minor illnesses being the major cause for both manual and non-manual workers. Workplace stress was considered the second-highest cause of absence for non-manual workers.

Other interesting causes of absence were home, family, personal problems, unauthorised holidays, poor workplace morale and paid sickness seen as an entitlement.

There are ways to take back control of the situation by considering that absence is lower where senior management take responsibility.

Return-to-work interviews were seen to be most effective, while formal notification procedures, occupational health services and pre-recruitment medicals and PMI were also seen to have an impact in reducing absence.

Given the astounding evidence presented within the CBI/PPP healthcare Absence and Labour Turnover Survey 2000, senior management and HR departments have a role to play in combating these high annual costs. Implementation of an absence policy and ensuring it is correctly administered is crucial to the success of future reduction in lost time and costs to UK industry.

Presented earlier are facts stating that the indirect costs can be far greater than the direct costs.

This emphasises the business need to plan specifically for the inevitable financial drain that sickness absence will place upon their business.

While pre-employment screening helps to ensure organisations employ people who are fit to work, they cannot foresee employees&#39 health problems that lie ahead.

Private medical insurance schemes will ensure the unforeseen is resolved in a speedy fashion, placing the employee back in the workplace promptly.

In the same CBI survey, it was thought that return-to-work interviews were the most effective absence policy.

Where senior and HR managers held primary responsibility for absence management, absence was lower than where they did not.

In recent years, bigger organisations have implemented health audits for their entire workforce. The result of this audit is used to create a health awareness strategy, ensuring the organisation is doing everything in its power to educate and prevent.

With UK employees now officially working the longest hours in Europe, a common finding in the corporate health audit is the level of stress within the workplace.

While stress may originate from our personal or work lives, one thing we can be sure of is that it will eventually affect us and our productivity in the workplace. When stress is ignored, the effects worsen, causing the length and frequency of absence to increase.

A recent study of 237 secondary schools by academics at Cambridge University covering just four months at the end of 1999 showed that around 45 per cent of state school teachers took an average of 6.8 working days off through sickness.

The researchers believed increased workload and work- related stress were major contributing factors.

The management of Health and Safety at Work Regulation 1992, revised in 1999, and case histories in Northumbria, Birmingham and Merseyside, show it is the legal responsibility of the employer to ensure they assess the risk of stress within their own organisation and endeavour to reduce its impact within the workplace.

Failure to do so may res-ult in prosecution from either the Health and Safety Executive, the employees themselves or both. We have a role to play in helping to significantly reduce employer costs and liabilities by ensuring that stress in the workplace is properly addressed and pro-actively managed. Where does the specialist healthcare consultant add value?

The role of the specialist healthcare consultant is to work in partnership with the organisation using his/her experience and knowledge to identify their current and future healthcare needs.

The specialist healthcare consultant will assist the organisation in defining a healthcare strategy and recommend solutions to achieve the immediate and long-term objectives.

Typically, these will include the aforementioned pre-employment screening and private medical insurance.

Other areas that should be highlighted are health screening, dental insurance, health and safety and employee assistance programmes. In today&#39s ever-changing environment, the role of the healthcare consultant is critical and calls for more specialist knowledge to ensure they meet all healthcare needs for today&#39s organisations.

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