The benefits of early intervention

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Starting conversations early and putting support in place can reduce the length of long-term absences, says Joy Reymond, head of vocational rehabilitation services, Unum

Sickness absence is an unavoidable part of running a business. Having an effective wellbeing strategy in place can help staff to stay healthier and for the employer to manage absence better, but there is no way to eliminate it completely, especially when it comes to serious illness or injury. But, there is a way that employers can help reduce the length of this sickness absence and the cost to their organisation. This is by stepping in early.

A recent report by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr), The Benefits of Early Intervention, published in October 2015, reveals that long-term sickness absence costs UK businesses £4.17bn every year. To put this into perspective, it means businesses of more than 500 employees are losing over £770,000 a year, just on absence. It’s also a growing problem. As the workforce ages and the number of older employees increases, this cost is only set to rise.

However, there are measures businesses can take to address this and employers have a crucial role to play. By providing access to support early on, they can help to reduce the length of a typical absence by 17%; a significant reduction.

Addressing mental ill health
I’m sure it comes as no surprise that mental illness, including stress and anxiety, is the most common and costly cause of sickness absence, amounting to £1.17bn, a quarter of the total cost of long-term sickness absence. If not addressed quickly, mental health conditions can dramatically worsen and cause long periods of absence from work.

This is where early intervention has the greatest effect. By spotting the early signs of mental illness in the workplace, employers can start to have conversations with employees and put relevant support in place, sometimes even before an employee goes off sick from work. For many, this can be a difficult subject to broach in the workplace, so courses such as Mental Health First Aid can help to fill gaps in HR and line manager knowledge on how to best give support. Other services, such as employee assistance programmes and cognitive behavioural therapy, can give employees access to tools that can help them cope with or control their condition.

Providing support
There are a variety of intervention services available to employers and employees, often included as part of an income protection package. Support can be tailored around the needs of an individual, from ‘self-serve’ information found online to face-to-face counselling and absence case management.

Vocational rehabilitation support can provide active case management and return to work support, helping employees, and employers, to overcome any barriers that they may foresee. The outcome is that employees feel prepared and supported as they re-enter the workforce.

Healthy workforce, healthy business
The use of early intervention and rehabilitation services helps to drive down the typical length of long-term absence. But, as a result of this, it is also generating an additional £270m worth of ‘payback’ to UK businesses, the Cebr study found. That equates to an average payback of £61 for every £100 spent on a group income protection policy with early intervention services. If an employee actively uses the intervention services on offer, this payback increases to £66.

Ensuring employees are healthy and happy isn’t just the right thing to do; it also has a direct impact on the bottom line. By providing intervention services an employer is not only supporting employees when they need it the most, it is also supporting the business.