Absence management procedures have not kept pace with technology and the way Britain works, resulting in serious welfare, management and productivity issues, a new report has said.
The research found that the myriad of current approaches were not working, meaning that employers are failing to deal with the full risks that employee absence and ill health bring to the workplace.
Ellipse released the Sick Notes, How changes in the workplace and technology demand a rethink of absence management report as part of its group income protection (GIP) product launch.
It found that the majority of employers (70%) were relying on non-HR personnel to handle sickness, with half (45%) of managers admitting that their people responsible for absence management were not the best equipped to deal with it.
Worryingly, nearly half of managers (41%) said absence procedure was not followed at all.
And despite 80% of employers believing presenteeism was a bad thing, working sick is now commonplace, with 80% of people doing so.
However, over half of workers still confess to pulling a sickie when they weren't ill.
These figures could be addressed by increased working from home, the report noted, as 70% of line managers and the majority of workers believe doing so more frequently, where practical, would reduce hours lost to sickness.
Encouragingly, there was growing recognition that mental illness is a serious issue in the workplace.
The death of Gary Speed has brought mental illness to the national attention and it seems managers and employees are beginning to understand it better (60% of line managers compared to 48% of workers).
Professor Cary Cooper, Distinguished Professor of organizational psychology and health at Lancaster University and co-author of the report, said illness was just a fact of working life but was not always an inevitability.
"We should be trying to prevent long-term absence as much as possible and we can do that in a few ways," he said.
"Firstly, by looking at ways of flexible working to help those who are able to work but perhaps not able to come into the office or work set hours.
"Secondly, we need to encourage employees to not feel obliged to come in to work when they are ill as we know a culture of presenteeism is damaging.
"In the longer term employers can address absence by ensuring that they do not instil a culture of long working hours, which ultimately lead to demoralized staff and increased sickness, and by training line managers to be fully able to deal with absence management rather than leaving it to chance.
"A few small actions can make a big difference to absence and I urge employers to ask themselves honestly whether their current process is fit for purpose," he added.
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