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26 Jul 2018
by Simon Thomas

Ways to identify and manage short-term absence

In many ways, nipping absence in the bud is probably akin to shutting the door after the horse has bolted. Preventing absence from happening in the first place is key. But therein lies a potential curveball in the shape of inadvertently encouraging presenteeism: arguably a bigger problem than short-term absence these days.


A huge 86 per cent of employers reported observing presenteeism in their organisation over the past 12 months, according to the CIPD’s Health and Well-being at Work Survey (2018). Over a quarter of these report that presenteeism has increased over this period.

This is clearly an issue. Yet the reaction by employers seems somewhat disproportionate: the percentage of organisations taking steps to discourage presenteeism having halved from 48 per cent in 2016 to 25 per cent in 2018.

You could be forgiven for thinking, with all the talk around employee wellbeing, that these figures should be the other way around. But the fact of the matter is that in many organisations wellbeing is just that. All talk.

Fortunately, for many companies, the barriers can be overcome by simply looking at things a bit differently.

The reality of wellbeing

More employers approach wellbeing on an ad-hoc basis in response to individual need (three-fifths of CIPD respondents), rather than taking a proactive position with a standalone wellbeing strategy in place to support their wider organisation strategy (two fifths of respondents). Nearly one in five report that their organisation is not doing anything.

The CIPD states that across all sectors surveyed: “budgetary constraints and value for money tend to have greater impact on the decision to purchase wellbeing benefits than managing identified health issues, employee feedback or alignment with the organisation’s health and wellbeing strategy”.

At the same time though, employers report that a focus on health and wellbeing brings positive results. Those that focused on wellbeing during 2017 reported better employee morale and engagement (44 per cent), a healthier and more inclusive culture (35 per cent) and lower sickness absence (31 per cent).

Take a fresh look

So if wellbeing does indeed bring measurable results for some, maybe it’s time to look at simple ways around the problems encountered by others.

The need to evidence value for money, or return on investment (ROI), when it comes to wellbeing represents an ongoing – albeit understandable – issue. But it’s time that this sticking point was removed.

Measuring value of wellbeing interventions is notoriously difficult but not insurmountable if you instead focus on outcomes: arguably a much more relevant approach to wellbeing initiatives than ROI.

Define the end goal

A required outcome will vary from one company to another. So articulating the end goal is key. For example, it might be to offer mental health training for line managers, with a view to raising awareness of how to identify potential mental health issues.

Next put in place an appropriate service, for example facilitated training.

Finally, assess what line managers have learnt and, in a few months’ time, whether they’re feeling more confident with this responsibility and whether employees are happy.

It’s as simple as that. An outcomes-based approach takes things one step at a time, tailoring interventions according to workplace and strategic business needs.

An academic issue

It also doesn’t need to cost you anything more, if you already have group risk products in place, making the ROI hurdle seem somewhat academic.

Wellbeing interventions are included with benefits such as group income protection (GIP) and can be extended to the whole workforce, not just those individuals covered by the salary replacement aspect. What’s more, if any services were missing that might help an organisation meet an identified wellbeing need, some insurers might help you fund those too via Wellbeing Investment Matching: a new initiative.

There for the taking

Meanwhile, a 2018 survey by Group Risk Development (GRiD), the industry body for the group risk protection sector, found that employees at large organisations take three times as many sick days as those at micro firms.

The findings help raise the questions of why companies aren’t doing more to prevent absence when, for many, support is already there for taking.

Katharine Moxham, spokesperson for GRiD, said: “Keeping tabs on every single member of staff at a larger firm is by no means an easy feat – particularly for companies whose staff travel between or work in multiple locations. However, many of these companies may well already have group risk products in place whereby they can access support for individuals and the organisation as a whole, without requiring any additional expertise or spend.

“Where an organisation currently doesn’t buy in group risk, we would certainly encourage them to consider it as, by offering such products to staff, management will benefit from an absence solution too.”

The author is Simon Thomas, director – UK Employee Benefits at Generali.

This article was provided by Generali.

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