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The carrot and sick approach

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Employers across Europe are offering incentives to persuade their employees to take fewer sick days.

Research from Mercer Human Resource Consulting reveals that 27 per cent of employers are offering carrots such as vouchers and bonuses but some employers – particularly those in the UK – are concerned that the incentives might encourage ‘presenteeism’ among the genuinely sick.

Steve Clements, principal at Mercer, explained: “Some employers believe that by offering incentives to reduce absence, they are encouraging employees who are genuinely sick to attend work. Many also struggle with the notion of rewarding employees for doing what is expected of them – that is, to work when they are fit to do so.”

To help reduce the risk of employees being absent due to ill health, 49 per cent of the respondents promote health initiatives and benefits in their organisation.

Among these employers, health screening is the most popular initiative, with 60 per cent offering access to this service. Interestingly, southern Europe takes the lead, with 78 per cent of companies offering health screening followed closely by eastern Europe at 76 per cent, compared to 49 per cent in northern Europe.

Subsidised gym membership is most prevalent in eastern Europe, with 54 per cent offering this benefit to employees compared to 32 per cent in northern Europe and 27 per cent in southern Europe.

In contrast, just 13 per cent of respondents in eastern Europe provide support for employees who are trying to quit smoking, compared to 39 per cent in southern Europe and 33 per cent in northern Europe.

The research also asked respondents what effect they thought anti-discrimination law had on their ability to manage absence – and 22 per cent were concerned about its preventative effects. Concern was highest in eastern Europe, Germany and France.

“There have been inconsistent interpretations of what the various EU anti-discrimination directives mean, and this has caused a lot of confusion for employers,” said Clements.

“When evaluating absence cases, many employers feel they have to check and double check where they stand from a legal perspective before they take any action to get employees back to work. More guidance from government would go a long way to helping companies untangle the complex web of legislation.”

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