Establishing the problems and assessing the risks is the key to building a successful absence management strategy

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Barnett Waddingham recently conducted our annual Workplace Wellbeing Index survey – and it raised some concerns about how sickness absence is handled in the workplace.

While for the vast majority of companies’ recorded minor illnesses – colds, flu and so on – are the number one cause of absences, this doesn’t tend to account for long-term absence such as mental health and musculoskeletal conditions.

One of the survey questions asked, ‘For those of you who have implemented a wellbeing strategy, have you seen a positive impact on absence?’ and the vast majority actually said they’d seen no impact on their figures at all.

It really suggests that many companies don’t really look at their absence trends and take them into account when building their wider reward and wellbeing strategies.

If you want to improve absence, you need to have a solid intervention and prevention strategy, tailored to the specific risks of the workforce – and for that you really need to take an analytical approach.

For example, a lot of the work we do with clients includes analysing absence data or medical insurance claims data, to establish the risks that are specifically impacting on that business.

Risk can often be specific to sector: more manual occupations see more musculo-skeletal conditions, and more office-based companies, for example financial services organisations, often have more mental wellness-based issues.

Equally, however, different organisations within the same industry sector will also have different demographics, different risks, and therefore different challenges that are identified when analysing absence data.

So really, it comes down to working out what your company-specific problem or health risk is: once you understand that, building a prevention and intervention framework is much easier.

The initial key to understanding what your company’s health risks are lies in accurate absence recording: there are still many companies who don’t, or don’t have a consistent approach to absence data across all departments.

From analytics to action

So how can companies turn their data analytics into a prevention and intervention strategy?

Of course, it depends on the health issues and conditions you as a company are dealing with, however the concept of prevention is the subject of a growing focus among HR professionals. Mental health, for example, is seeing an increase in preventative solutions around areas such as mindfulness and resilience training.

It’s also about making sure that your intervention framework is functioning beyond the data called to attention by things like long-term medical insurance or cash plan usage. If you have a good system of absence management recording you can build triggers into that so that HR or occupational health can pick up on causes of absence, catching them early and setting them on an intervention pathway.

The future of absence

Having a network or framework to accurately record and analyse absence is only going to become increasingly important.

With increasing longevity we’re all going to be in a position at some point in the future where we will have to care for our parents – and already there is a trend towards carers taking sick leave to undertake their responsibilities.

There are more products out there than there were ten years ago to help employees purchase insurance or eldercare for their relatives, and this will only keep improving: but it’s really important to be honest and record absence truthfully, so that companies can see what their employees’ needs are.

Moving forward it will become more and more of an issue for more and more people, so if a company can establish the need and will have the data to do something about it in terms of a product or solution to help them.

Proper recording of absence is the golden rule when it comes to implementing a successful health and wellbeing strategy.

A lot of companies guess at what strategy might work, and it’s very difficult to know how to solve a problem if you don’t know what the problem is.

Take the blindfold off, look at the data, understand what your risks are, and build a strategy that’s pertinent to those risks.

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