Sayeed Khan: Tackling preventable causes of absence

Driving down employee absence aids business growth, and manufacturers should not underestimate the relationship between increased production and reduced absence.

Sayeed Khan

Employees’ personal choices and work facilities have a huge impact on absence, and employers are increasingly recognising the importance of tackling preventable absence.

Employers can identify preventable causes of absence by distinguishing between work-related causes, such as occupational dermatitis, which they really must prevent, and work-exacerbated causes, such as stress at work and poor workstation design that make an existing health problem in an employee worse.

Regular, frequent dialogue between line managers and staff enable these issues to be addressed at an early stage before sickness absence occurs. Employers should not forget that they can analyse lots of data and identify common causes of absence by scanning the bar code on the bottom of a Fit Note, which will upload all the information on the certificate into Excel.

Employees’ lifestyles are important in preventing absence and employers can help by offering healthy alternatives in vending machines, healthy catering options and aligning work activities with national health promotion days.

Simple schemes, such as ‘free fruit Fridays’, have proved successful. Bikes-for-work schemes take time to sort out, but they are also effective.

Our sickness absence and rehabilitation surveys show that mental health is the third most common cause of long-term sickness absence after musculoskeletal disorders, and waiting for treatment and recovery.

Employees might be stressed by personal circumstances and work could exacerbate this, so employers should adopt an organisation-wide approach of integrating stress awareness into management policies. 

Stress prevention can be aided by the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) stress management standard and the HSE line manager competency indicator tool, as well as our work organisation questionnaire.

Employers are aware that reducing staff absence leads to increased productivity but, because they do not see immediate results, they risk a cultural downward spiral of not monitoring it closely.

A healthy and happy workforce is an engaged workforce that is more willing to go the extra mile.

Sayeed Khan is chief medical adviser at manufacturers’ organisation EEF