Absence cause that’s difficult to digest

Posted by Matthew Scrimshire on 13/10/17 12:46

You might think that stomach aches, upsets and related symptoms are a common reason for staff being absent from work. In fact though, employees who regularly complains of such issues should arouse either your suspicions or concerns, as gastro-related sickness is less common than you might think. 

Our Clinical Governance Officer, Suzanne Monk, recently asked me: “How many episodes of gastro-related sickness is the average in 12 months?” 

I wasn’t sure and thought it might be a few; a view that could be supported by this example of someone’s absence record:

Employee absence history (last 20 absences in the last 12 months, most recent first)

Absence Start Absence End Return To Work Working Days Lost Hours Lost Absence Type Reason
27/07/10 12/08/10 13/03/10 13 97.5 Medical Back problem
19/07/10 19/07/10 20/07/10 1 7.5 Medical Cough and/or cold
14/07/10 15/07/10 16/07/10 2 15 Medical Gastrointestinal
21/06/10 29/06/10 01/07/10 6 48 Non-medical Care of a dependant
21/06/10 23/06/10 24/06/10 3 22.5 Medical Gastrointestinal
01/06/10 14/06/10 15/06/10 12 90 Medical Musculoskeletal
25/02/10 01/03/10 02/03/10 3 23 Medical Ear, Nose and Throat
24/02/10 24/02/10 26/02/10 2 15 Medical Gastrointestinal 

However, the correct answer is just one. Much less than the three recorded above. 

Gastro issues are commonly reported and can be a real challenge; especially as there is often some suspicion as to the root cause. 

The symptoms can be reminiscent of a bad hangover, for example, but that might not be the case. 

Here are four common reasons for frequent gastro-related absences:

  1. A deeper issue (more on this next).
  2. Poor personal hygiene.
  3. Bad luck / circumstances.
  4. Someone “swinging the lead”.

An old friend of mine has recently been diagnosed as having coeliac disease, a subject close to my heart as my four-year-old is also intolerant of gluten. 

My friend is approaching the big 4 - 0 so you might think he’d have noticed something sooner. But that’s not the case, as few of us know enough to recognise the symptoms. In fact, they could also point towards IBS and other digestive conditions. 

In my friend’s case, thanks to the expert diagnosis and changes he has made, he’s now lost a couple of stone in weight and is feeling like a new person.


Benefit of nurses triaging every absence

The key point is it took a medical professional to correctly identify the problem. The same is true of the absence record, above. If a health professional were to see the record, they would identify an issue and want to explore it further. 

A line manager is unlikely to spot it. 

Furthermore, if the number of absences continued, the line manager’s suspicion might grow and damage the working relationship. 

This also harks back to an issue I previously highlighted. 

  • People are less likely to visit their doctor for treatment of a gastro problem.
  • The doctor will be unaware of the details held within absence records by the employer.
  • Correct diagnosis will not be made or will be delayed.

It’s a scenario that is avoided by clients of FirstCare. Their employees have the benefit of nurses triaging every absence, with the full sickness record in front of them and supported by nearly 600 years of experience across the team. 

For example, if bad luck or circumstances were eliminated from the preliminary diagnosis above, our nurses would either: 

  • Recommend further analysis be sought by the individual.
  • Advise on good hygiene practice.
  • Provide a polite but robust challenge to get the employee back on the right track. 

Would your managers be qualified or safely confident to do the same? 

- Matthew Scrimshire, Business Development Manager


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And keep up with our quarterly data analysis of absence trends across the UK via the FirstCare Index.