ill at work and employee sickness

With the majority mobility companies’ time and efforts being focused on improving customer wellbeing, new research has shown UK business are suffering lower staff morale and productivity as a result of rising staff absences due to ill health.

According to a study by the British Chambers of Commerce and Unum, 43 percent of businesses have had employees absent from work for more than four weeks due to ill health in the last two years.

The results follow a survey of 1,000 businesses of different sizes in a range of sectors, with B2C businesses including retail being the most likely to report adverse impacts arising from employee sickness, with 93 of B2C firms highlighting operational effects and 85 percent revealing impacts of staff morale.

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In total, 88 percent of respondents stated that staff absences led to a knock-on effect on operations, whilst 76 percent noted the influence on staff morale. In addition, 44 percent of companies pointed out financial consequences and 36 percent noted reputational impacts.

Alongside revealing the consequences of long-term employee absences, the study also emphasised respondents’ awareness of the need to support employee health and wellbeing.

62 percent of businesses said they offer employee benefits focusing on health, such as access to wellbeing support, private medical insurance, occupational support services and healthy lifestyle benefits such as gym membership and cycle to work schemes.

As well as improving staff morale and productivity, the results also highlighted the positive effect offering employee protections had on retaining and attracting staff.

The survey found that 41 percent of businesses believe that providing financial protection benefits, such as income protection insurance and critical illness cover, helps them to attract and retain employees, with the figure rising to 52 percent for larger companies with more than 50 employees.

In the wake of the results, the British Chambers of Commerce and Unum says that businesses want to help support staff’s wellbeing and help them to return to work after a period of sickness, however, state the process can be difficult and expensive for employers to manage.

The organisations suggest employers would benefit from financial support and clearer guidance to help them invest in services that can support them to prevent and manage sickness absence.

“People are the most important asset of any business and a healthy and happy workforce lends itself to increased morale and productivity. Many firms already take proactive steps to support the physical and mental wellbeing of staff and, when they have the capacity and resources, will offer a range of information, services and benefits,” said Jane Gratton, Head of People Policy at the British Chambers of Commerce.

“Maintaining employees’ health and resilience is always the best option, but when people are absent through ill health, it is in everyone’s best interests that they are supported back into work as quickly as possible. But managing sickness absenteeism can be difficult and expensive for businesses, especially smaller firms who don’t have access to specialist in-house HR services.

“Employers need access to good quality, affordable services to help them understand how to support their people in the best way, together with clear, up-to-date information and guidance on everyone’s rights and responsibilities. The BCC is calling for any additional statutory payment to be reimbursed or off-set in some way, to reflect the extent to which firms are already struggling with the cumulative cost of employment.”

The results reflect the economic impacts of ill health in the workplace and the actions businesses are taking to promote and maximise staff wellbeing. The government is currently consulting on proposals to prevent health-related job loss, which will require businesses to take a more proactive role.

Peter O’Donnell, Chief Executive Officer, Unum UK, said: “Sickness absence has a major impact on businesses of all sizes and across all sectors and it’s vital that employers prioritise the health and wellbeing of their workforce.

“Coping with illness can be very hard for employees and their families and good employers want to both support their people as much as possible and manage the negative impact on their business.

“With the financial assistance and rehabilitation support they provide, GIP products are invaluable during a period of illness, but equally, access to early clinical help whenever it’s needed is also very helpful and reassuring for both employers and employees.

“After reviewing some of the biggest problems for SMEs and their people, we found fast access to key medical services would bring very tangible benefits. As a result, we recently launched help@hand to provide employees and their families with access to remote GPs, second opinions, physiotherapy and mental health support via an easy to use the app. Not only can fast access to these services bring peace of mind to employees, but early intervention can also help reduce the risk of long-term sickness absence and lessen the operational and financial impact on companies.”

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