Long-term sickness absence is a growing problem in the UK. It cost UK businesses £3.13 billion in 2012 and, as the make-up of the workforce changes and the number of older workers increases, is set to reach £4.81 billion by 2030 – a 15% increase.
Late intervention is the failure to take action during the initial stages of an absence, resulting in absence that lasts longer then necessary. Not only does it cause prolonged suffering for your employees. It disrupts your operations and means you spend more than necessary on absence.
Read on to learn more about late intervention and the practical steps you can take to intervene at the right time, support your employees and reduce your absence spend.
Timely intervention will reduce the length and cost of absence
From increasing costs and lost productivity to the reduction in service levels to customers, lengthy absences can be incredibly damaging to your business.
However, if you step in early to provide support at the first signs of a health problem, you’ll reduce the duration and associated costs of long-term sickness absence. Early intervention services such as vocational rehabilitation can reduce the average length of absence by 17% for all conditions, and 18% for those with mental health conditions.
The financial benefits are also significant. According to the Centre for Economics and Business Research (2012), early intervention services could contribute an additional £270 million worth of ‘payback’ to private sector businesses. Overall, through avoiding Occupational Sick Pay and other costs associated with sickness absence, Group Income Protection (GIP) and associated early intervention services can result in an estimated £3.95 billion being returned to businesses.
Know the warning signs and take action swiftly to tackle them
It’s vital to monitor your business’ absence trends, and look out for rising sick pay costs, salaries and replacement costs, as well as low Return to Work compliance. And if you provide Occupational Health, an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) or physiotherapy services, you need to look at waiting times, how quickly people are being referred and whether there’s high or appropriate utilisation of the services you provide.
Ultimately, if late intervention is costing your business money, you need to be strategic in your response. Data is key in developing a sound understanding of why your absence costs are high and where you need to make changes to tackle them.
Enshrine early intervention in your policy and process
When your line managers are constantly focused on operational delivery, it’s easy to let absence slip. There is also a common misconception that absence management should be the sole responsibility of your HR department. From not knowing what to do or when to act to being uncomfortable speaking about health, there are myriad reasons that businesses fail to intervene early.
However, if you want to reduce your absence costs, it’s vital to enshrine early intervention in your policy and process. So you need to review your existing HR policies and procedures and educate your line managers in these policies.
For example, Return to Work interviews are crucial to an effective absence management policy. Not only do they welcome the employee back to work. They also help you develop an understanding of the reason for absence and, crucially, give you an opportunity to highlight any absence patterns to the employee. This in itself is often the first stage of intervention in identifying how to support the employee to improve their absence.
Another effective measure is to ensure that your managers intervene when an employee hits an absence policy trigger, such as 3 absence spells in a rolling 6 month period, or a Bradford Score of greater than a certain value. If your managers fail to act promptly in response to a trigger, there could be significant impact on the resolution of any identified issues.
Provide referral and advice services, and ensure that everyone is aware of them
If you’re looking for preventative measures, a day one absence provision linked to early mechanisms for physiological and mental health conditions is very effective.
If you do offer Occupational Health, EAP and physiotherapy, it is vital that both managers and employees are aware of the services available and how to access them. You also need to ensure that the services are accessed at the appropriate time to ensure the optimal outcome.
For example, if a manager refers an employee to Occupational Health prematurely, this could actually have a negative impact on the eventual outcome. A premature referral has the scope to waste resources, medicalise an issue that could be managed by your team and limit the advice the Occupational Health service can provide. However, an early referral to Occupational Health could have a very positive impact on the ultimate outcome, for example, if advice is given on appropriate adjustments.
On the other hand, early intervention for a musculoskeletal issue – which can be resolved through appropriate physiotherapy advice and exercises – is very important.
Ultimately, if you have services available, you need to ensure that the appropriate intervention is made to the appropriate support service at the appropriate time.
Intervene swiftly when your employees are awaiting medical treatment
Late intervention can also refer to a situation where an employee is receiving medical treatment for an ongoing health issue, which could resolve a health issue affecting their ability to work. Their condition could also be exacerbated whilst they wait for treatment.
While there may be factors involved that are outside your control – availability of appointments or the reluctance of GPs to refer, for example – there may be measures that you can take to facilitate your employee’s ability to work while they wait for their treatment.
What’s more, an increasing number of businesses are offering private medical insurance and funding schemes, which can facilitate swifter treatment and subsequent return to work.
Introduce a day one absence management service
The most effective way to ensure your commitment to appropriate intervention is reflected across your organisation is to introduce a day one absence management service, such as the service provided by FirstCare.
Not only do we provide the data to understand why your absence costs are high. Our service also ensures that managers are aware of the support available and the actions they need to take.
Based upon our work with large organisations in the public and private sector, where our day one absence management service has facilitated early intervention, we have helped to reduce absence by an average of 29.3%.
Through adopting a proactive approach to early intervention, and using our system to deliver day one notifications and instructions to each manager and for every absence, the overall absence rate at Oxford University Hospital Foundation NHS Trust has fallen by 27.6%. Read our case study to learn more.