Research reveals lack of long-term support for absent employees returning to work
As many as 31% of employers do not make any early interventions to help staff return to work if they are absent for longer than six months due to ill health, disability or injury, a study by Group Risk Development (GRiD) has suggested.
The research among 500 employers carried out by the industry body also showed that a similar number (32%) do not have financial support in place for staff if they are absent for this amount of time.
Half (52%) of those who do not offer return-to-work support said they cannot afford it and a third (32%) said they feel it is not their responsibility.
Similarly, 58% of those who do not offer financial support said they cannot afford it, while 30% said it was not something they should have to do.
Of those who do offer early intervention to staff, 50% said they provide it for all staff (40% via insurance and 10% by self-funding). The most common forms were emotional support such as counselling (46%), graded return-to-work plans (43%), practical support such as access to a rehab specialist (39%), line manager training (34%).
Other forms include access to medical specialists such as oncologists (31%), second medical opinions (28%), paying for treatment (27%) and physio (24%).
Katharine Moxham, spokesperson GRiD, said: "Employees who are offered support at difficult times in their lives - be that financial, physical, emotional or social - not only are more valued, they also feel more valued and are therefore more likely to return to work more quickly. Not offering support, and/or removing income sources is by no means a motivator to get staff back at their desk. Of course no employer should be advocating presenteeism where employees return to work before they are truly ready, but offering support to help staff return to work when they can isn't just a win for the business, it is also greatly valued by staff."
Role of employer
Despite the lack of employer responsibility shown in part, GRiD has drawn attention to the recent government consultation titled ‘Health is everyone's business', which puts greater emphasis on the role employers should play in helping employees back to work following a period of sickness absence.
According to the Department of Work & Pensions and Department of Health & Social Care, evidence suggests that 100,000 people leave work following a long-term sickness absence each year, highlighting that there are recruitment costs at stake for employers.
Moxham added: "The longer a member of staff is absent from work, the greater likelihood that they will not return to work following their absence. Not only is this costly for the employer but it is also hugely disruptive as the employer cannot accurately plan ahead to replace the employee and for the resources needed to recruit and train a new member of staff."
According to GRiD, a wealth of early intervention and rehabilitation support is available to businesses via employee benefits, such as group risk policies which include employer-led life assurance, income protection and critical illness policies.
"Absent employees who are not supported by their employer, are likely to very quickly start to feel detached from work, and that creates hurdles which can loom large and prevent a return to work," said Moxham. "Support is available, and we would encourage businesses to investigate such support - we think they'd be pleasantly surprised at not just how comprehensive the range is, but that it's very likely to be cheaper than funding support on an individual, ad-hoc basis."