British workers take, on average, more than four times as many sick days as in other Western European countries. This equates to nine days sick leave each year, resulting in an annual cost to UK employers of about £29 billion in lost productivity.
How can you, as an employer, reduce the number of sick days and limit the cost of absenteeism? The best strategy is to learn about the common types of health conditions and put in place ways to reduce their prominence and impact.
Common health problems include colds and flu to more serious conditions such as chronic musculoskeletal problems. Alongside this, there are a number of mental health conditions, which combined are the most common reason for long-term absence.
Colds and flu can spread quickly through a workplace. Good hygiene is important, with well-placed hand sanitisers, tissues and a tolerant sickness policy. By encouraging already-ill employees to take time off, the total number of days lost to illness may be reduced. Immunising staff against the flu and encouraging regular hospital check-ups is good insurance against viruses spreading.
Cross-contamination is a common cause of food poisoning, so food preparation areas should be kept clean at all times. Any communal fridges should be cleaned weekly and out-of-date food promptly discarded.
Any injury, damage or disorder of the joints or tissues can be exacerbated, or caused, by workplace tasks. Employers should take measures to reduce the risk of their employees contracting these disorders by ensuring that workstations have necessary adaptations to suit each worker's requirements and that the tasks are suitable; allowing staff regular breaks to limit the risk of repetitive injury; and ensuring that any physically strenuous jobs are accompanied by suitable training.
Mental health issues
Around £2.4 billion is spent annually on employees who leave work because of mental health issues. Supportive working environments reduce mental health problems. Where an employee is off sick due to a mental health issue, the employer should communicate with them regularly and have a flexible workplace strategy that recognises their needs.
Reducing staff sick days is in the financial interest of all employers. Simple steps in the workplace can have a significant impact. Making employees feel valued and supported can reduce absenteeism and ultimately increase productivity.
This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.