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How to deal with long-term sick leave...
How to deal with long-term sick leave

Managing long-term sick leave is a challenge for local government. Sickness absence costs the UK economy about£12bn per year, according to the Health & Safety Executive. Of the one million people who report sick each week, 3,000 will remain absent for six months and 2,400 will stay away for five years.

But what is the best way to deal with this apparently intractable problem? As part of its Health, Work and Well-Being strategy, the HSE has set out some clear guidelines, which should help managers address the issue.

Early intervention is the key. Staff need to see going back to work as part of the recovery process, not the end of it. 'Work is essential to good health and well-being if properly managed. Return-to-work is part of the recovery process and can safely happen before symptoms die down,' the HSE points out.

Managers can help by being aware that illness is often affected by a combination of personal and work factors. The best way to cut sick leave and ease staff back into work if they are off sick is to put a systematic approach in place.

This should include:

>> Checking and recording sickness absence

>> Training managers in how to deal with sickness absence

>> Involving absent employees in planning their return to work

>> Taking a close look at wage arrangements and conditions of work

>> Planning reasonable adjustments and controlling risks

>> Looking at management styles to make sure work is not having a negative impact on health.

A written policy, while not a legal requirement, is also a good idea. Other best practice points include:

>> Creating a climate of trust by agreeing methods, frequency and reasons for keeping in contact with absent employees

>> Consulting employees, HR managers and unions about working conditions

>> Welcoming employees back to work after absence

>> Carrying out return-to-work interviews.

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