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How to use wellbeing benefits to reduce absenteeism

Wednesday April 21, 2021

Benefits | Wellness

Posted on: Wednesday April 21, 2021

What is absenteeism?

It’s a catch-all term to describe employees who regularly fail to turn up to work without providing a good explanation. In theory, it doesn’t include time off for holidays, doctors’ appointments or illness. However, there is a grey area whereby employees regularly take unauthorised absence because of long-term health conditions, stress, or family issues.

Instead of seeing absenteeism as a negative behaviour that can be corrected with a ‘carrot and stick’ approach, HR leaders need to start with the assumption that their employees want to be in work and their absence should trigger concern for their welfare.

Looking at the list below, you might agree that many of the causes of absenteeism could be addressed by better wellbeing support.

Top causes of absenteeism

  • Minor illnesses – coughs, colds etc.
  • Musculoskeletal injuries, including back pain.
  • Childcare / other caring responsibilities.
  • Mental health – this includes stress and burnout as well as common conditions like depression and anxiety.

(Source: CIPD, Absence measurement and management factsheet, 22 September 2020)

Which wellbeing benefits will reduce absence figures?

Flexible working

Not all perks will come at a cost to an organisation or its employees. Flexible working arrangements can be a significant benefit, especially for those with family commitments. This type of arrangement can work particularly well for organisations that operate shift patterns, as employees can flex their hours as needed.

The COVID-19 crisis has changed the game on working from home. We’re likely to see large numbers continue this for the next few months, and many employees will ask for a blend of home and office work even after restrictions are lifted.

Employees value flexible and/or home working because it helps them juggle work commitments and childcare, deal with long-term physical or mental illness, or reduce the pressure of stressful jobs. All of these common causes of absenteeism can be addressed by being able to work from home just once a week or being able to work earlier or later than the standard 9-5 every day.

Online GP

We all know that finding the time to speak to a doctor can be difficult, with extended waiting times and unhelpful surgery opening hours. Giving staff access to on-demand GP appointments means that staff can speak to a medical professional via telephone or video consultation, 24 hours a day, and often within a few hours of their request.

As well as providing reassurance on minor problems, online GP appointments can help employees manage their long-term health conditions, preventing extended sickness leave. And as it’s available for the employee’s family too, it can be helpful for reducing the amount of time parents have to take off to care for a sick child.

EAP (Employee Assistance Programme)

Employees may be suffering from conditions which are not obvious from the outside but have a severe impact on daily life and can be difficult to discuss in a work context. Mental health conditions are especially hard to identify, and fear of stigma or lack of understanding may prevent sufferers from seeking help.

But a large-scale study of UK workplaces in 2018 revealed that mental health problems are a significant driver of productivity loss, costing the UK as a whole the equivalent of £38bn. It’s in employers’ interest to prevent mental health problems from developing or improve management of an existing condition.

You can help by providing flexible support; for example an EAP helpline. Employees can access the EAP confidentially, via their own device, in the privacy of their home – or indeed anywhere they feel comfortable. EAPs offer advice on a huge range of complex issues, from mental health to debt advice to addiction.

Want to know more about how helping your employees be well can help your business do well? Check out our Wellbeing Hub here – and don’t forget to subscribe to our blog for weekly thought leadership straight to your inbox.

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