• By Sam Cook
  • In
  • Posted Tuesday July 28, 2015

3 step guide to reducing sickness in the practice

Short term sickness can have a big impact on the practice and the remaining staff. High absence can put strain on the team and cause delays, low morale, and the inability to meet service demands, so First Practice Management (FPM) Group has put together some quick steps to reducing short term sickness in the practice.

For information on managing long term sickness, see our article here.

Step One – Introduce triggers and a sickness management policy

Having a sickness management policy/procedure enables the practice to manage absence levels fairly by issuing various levels of warnings for cumulative bouts of absence.

Often you might hear “it’s not my fault,” or, “I’m not pulling sickies,” however it is important to emphasise that you are not questioning the validity or authenticity of absence, but rather managing levels of absence within the practice or an employee’s ability to maintain regular attendance.

There are numerous ways of defining what will trigger a warning or stage of the process, including the Bradford Factor which scores absences depending on regularity and length. Another way might be the percentage method, where if 3% of the working year is sickness it triggers action. One of the simplest ways to manage absence is to use days and instances.

E.g. three instances of absence or five cumulative days of sickness absence in a six month period will result in the first warning. Following this you start again and three further instances or five further days will result in stage two whilst the warning is still live.

Step Two – Measure

Without accurate records of absences, using a procedure will be pointless. Records of dates, durations and reasons should be noted down to ensure fair application of procedures can take place.

Practice wide stats on levels of absence will also help you to identify if the practice has an issue in comparison to other organisations and help you identify trends and whether you are making progress in reducing absence.

According to recent CIPD figures (2014), Public Sector Health Services are in the top three highest absence levels in UK sectors with an average of 4.2% of working time lost to sickness absence.

Across all other industries in the UK the average is 2.9% or 6.6 days per full time employee per year.

For larger practices, exploring team levels of absence can also be very useful as it helps to target problem areas. Issues such as poor employee engagement, a culture of ‘taking advantage’, stress and even bullying can sometimes be associated with high absence levels.

Step Three - Monitor

Return to work interviews should be completed as soon as an employee returns from each sickness absence, not only to meet your health and safety/duty of care obligations, but also to show you are actively monitoring and managing absence. Research has shown that the closer the proximity of the interview to the return date, the lower the absence in the organisation.

The following questions can be asked to ensure you get the most out of return to work interviews and they have the biggest impact:

  • What was the reason for the absence?
  • Did you seek medical advice/treatment?
  • Are you fit to be back at work?
  • Is everything else okay? Any work issues?
  • You’ve had XX days sickness this year are there any underlying problems?

(Or you could explain the sickness procedures or whether they have triggered action).

What to watch out for

Disability related absences often cause complications in sickness management procedures. Some organisations choose to discount them altogether, although case law has established that the Equality Act 2010’s requirement for employers to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ does not necessarily mean you should discount or be more generous with absence triggers for disability related absence. However, judgement should be taken on a case-by-case basis.

A simple way of reducing the risk of discrimination claims would be to gather independent medical advice on what impact the particular condition has on the employee’s ability to attend work. Where Occupational Health confirms they may be prone to more regular absence, triggers can be relaxed; where not, triggers can remain the same and all absence included. Where it is confirmed they will not be able to maintain a reasonable level of absence, capability options can be explored. Occupational Health can also help to explore other methods of support the practice can offer which may improve attendance.

Employees who are perceived to abuse the system can cause a lot of frustration; where an employee is constantly just below the triggers, you can still take steps to address this (although caution should be taken). Consider whether there is a suspicious pattern. Does it coincide with rejected holidays? Is it always on a Monday? This can be questioned. You can also refer to Occupational Health at any point, if the employee has regular absence but it does not breach a trigger, you could refer them for advice on their health.

The First Practice Management policies and protocol library has a range of template policies and letters for members surrounding short term and long term sickness.

Alternatively for specific queries regarding sickness absence FPM Members can contact advice@firstpracticemanagement.co.uk where you question will be treated in confidence and will normally be answered (by email) within 2 working days of submission. 

© First Practice Management, 2015. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.



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