Work Absence: 2.5 Million People Unable to Work Due to Long-Term Sickness

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Most recent data published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), has shown that 2.5 million people during 2022 were absent from work due to long-term sicknesses. The data published in April 2023 illustrates the pervasiveness of the issue, highlighting the need for companies to have adequate work absence management and employee leave policies. 

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Long-term Sickness

As defined by the UK Government, employees who have been absent from work for 4 weeks or over due to sickness may be considered to have a long-term sickness. Although these employees may take a long time off work, they are still entitled to annual leave. 

This is a critical issue affecting both employees and employers. When an employee is absent for an extended period due to illness or injury, it can profoundly affect their well-being and productivity.

For the individual, coping with extended illness can lead to emotional and financial strain. 

Employers also face challenges, including reduced team morale and increased workloads for other staff. To mitigate these impacts, companies should foster a supportive environment, offer flexible work arrangements, and promote employee wellness initiatives.

Additionally, early intervention, access to healthcare, and clear communication are necessary for a successful return to work for those on long-term sick leave.

Work Absence Management

Employers should begin absence management by establishing policies that cover different types of work absence, including sickness leave. To reduce disruption to productivity and maintain service levels, effective absence management is essential to the continued functioning of any company. 

The most significant, non-recoverable cost to organisations is employee absence, but in addition to a decrease in staff turnover, a lack of a solid absence management strategy could lead to a decline in overall productivity, employee wellness, and business operations.

In terms of sickness or medical leave policies, employers should set out what is expected of the employee during and after the leave and also how many sick days per year are allocated. These policies should show lawful compliance with relevant legislation on managing leaves. 

Other than policies, employers should have access to records of absences and be able to track them. With working styles becoming more diverse due to the increased popularity of remote working, companies should establish an effective system that can record and monitor absences so that they can understand the situation and mitigate any issues early. 

During leave, both parties involved should maintain a transparent line of communication. Having clear rules on what is expected during leave, will effectively manage the levels of required communication.

This way, companies are better equipped to strategise during and after the leave and the employee will have enough time to recover. 

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Return to Work

The return to work process is a crucial aspect of supporting employees after a period of absence due to illness, injury, or other reasons. It involves a well-structured and compassionate approach to help individuals transition back into their roles seamlessly. This process often includes return-to-work interviews, where employees can discuss their needs, receive necessary support or reasonable adjustments, and address any concerns. 

Employers play a vital role in facilitating a positive and welcoming environment, fostering open communication, and providing resources to aid in the employee’s successful reintegration. A well-executed return-to-work process benefits both the individual and the organisation by promoting well-being, productivity, and overall job satisfaction.


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