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James Arquette


Commercial Director

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Blog: Learning to manage sickness absence more creatively


Newly published figures by the Health and Social Care Information Centre have revealed that NHS workers took an average of 15 days of sickness absence over the last year – an improvement on figures from three years ago. 

Sceptics have been quick to note that the level of sickness absence in the NHS is considerably higher than the private sector average.

But this ignores the fact that sickness absence in the health service will inevitably be affected by the fact that some NHS workers are simply prohibited from working if suffering from an ailment that might be dangerous for patients. 

This inevitably affects overall levels of sickness absence, but also gives rise to an interesting question: what should businesses be doing if mandatory sickness absence is an issue? 

The range of professions for which this is an issue is quite staggering – ranging from airline pilots to chefs and other professionals in the hospitality industry – but have a commonality in that staff can be absent at very short notice, potentially causing enormous problems for their employers. 

These problems are compounded by the fact that many of these professions require additional staff to be on stand-by, increasing salary costs that can by acutely felt by businesses. 

Redeployment onto other tasks

The onus is on such employers to have clearly communicated absence policies in place that stress the importance of early notification to give ample opportunity to find replacement staff and minimise the impact on the business. 

Equally, employers have to be rigorous in conducting back to work interviews that are fundamental to identifying any underlying causes of sickness absence that could affect other members of the workforce. 

However, what many employers in this situation often overlook is that an ailment that prevents frontline work does not always have to mean a day off sick. Instead, staff with minor ailments that in other circumstances would not require a day’s absence could be usefully employed in other tasks that ultimately is to their benefit, and that of the business. 

Staff could very easily be asked, if their condition allows, to either participate in or lead training sessions that improve their proficiency and that of the wider workforce. 

Equally, staff could be asked to assist with paperwork and other administration that relieves the burden on the workforce and helps prevent a build up of work further down the line. The challenge is for employers to recognise opportunities for staff to assist in these tasks if they cannot undertake their regular duties. 

Doing so can unlock efficiencies within the business, and can also present vital opportunities for staff development.

James Arquette is commercial director at absence management service provider, FirstCare.

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James Arquette

Commercial Director

Read more from James Arquette

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