A third of employers (31 per cent) do not make any early interventions to help staff return to work in the event that they’re absent for longer than six months owing to ill health, disability or injury. Similarly, thirty-two per cent of employers don’t have any financial support in place for staff if they are absent for half a year or more. This is according to research among 500 employers* carried out by GRiD, the industry body for the group risk sector.
Affordability and Responsibility
Of those employers that do not offer return–to–work interventions for employees, over half (52 per cent) said they can’t afford it and a third (32 per cent) believe that it is not their responsibility.
Similar reasons were cited when employers were questioned about why they don’t offer financial support. Over half (58 per cent) of those employers who don’t offer financial support, claim they can’t afford to do so and a third (30 per cent) believe it is not their responsibility.
Emotional support tops list of interventions
Of the employers who do offer early interventions to support a return to work for long-term absent employees, 50 per cent provide this for all staff (40% via insurance and 10% by self-funding).
Of those employers who do offer return–to–work interventions, the most common types are:
- Emotional support, such as counselling (46%)
- Graded return–to–work plans (43%)
- Practical support such as access to a rehabilitation specialist (39%)
- Line manager training (34%)
- Access to medical specialists such as oncologists (31%)
- Access to a second medical opinion (28%)
- We pay for treatment (27%)
- Physio (24%)
Katharine Moxham, spokesperson for Group Risk Development (GRiD) said: “Employees who are offered support at difficult times in their lives – be that financial, physical, emotional or social – not only are more valued, they also feel more valued and are therefore more likely to return to work more quickly. Not offering support, and/or removing income sources is by no means a motivator to get staff back at their desk. Of course no employer should be advocating presenteeism where employees return to work before they are truly ready, but offering support to help staff return to work when they can isn’t just a win for the business, it is also greatly valued by staff.”
It may not yet be a contractual obligation to offer early intervention but the Government’s ‘Health is everyone’s business’ consultation** stated, “Employers have an important role to play in creating workplaces in which employees with health conditions can stay and thrive in work. Employers are well placed to provide support to their employees. The right support from an employer or line manager is key to helping people with health conditions remain in work, or supporting people to return to work after a period of sickness absence.”
This isn’t entirely altruistic, as the Department of Work & Pensions/Department of Health & Social Care underlying evidence for the consultation states that 100,000 people leave work following a spell of long-term sickness absence each year***. Therefore, employers should be wary that a failure to rehabilitate employees back into the workplace could equate to a burgeoning recruitment bill.
Moxham continued: “The longer a member of staff is absent from work, the greater likelihood that they will not return to work following their absence. Not only is this costly for the employer but it is also hugely disruptive as the employer cannot accurately plan ahead to replace the employee and for the resources needed to recruit and train a new member of staff.”
A wealth of support is accessible to businesses via employee benefits. Indeed, group risk policies (employer-sponsored life assurance, income protection and critical illness) not only provide employees with financial support if absent, they frequently include a lot of embedded support to facilitate a swift and smooth return to work as soon as the employee is able, because being in appropriate work is good for health.
Support can include access to rehabilitation expertise, fast access to counselling and physiotherapy, case-specific vocational support – all of which is aimed at providing a bespoke solution for the employee, that is crucially often available in the very early stages of absence. And all of which takes the burden of trying to support employees off their immediate line manager.
Moxham concluded: “Absent employees who are not supported by their employer, are likely to very quickly start to feel detached from work, and that creates hurdles which can loom large and prevent a return to work. Support is available, and we would encourage businesses to investigate such support – we think they’d be pleasantly surprised at not just how comprehensive the range is, but that it’s very likely to be cheaper than funding support on an individual, ad-hoc basis.”
*Research undertaken by Opinium on behalf of GRiD amongst 1,165 employees between 24-28 January 2020, and amongst 500 HR Decision makers between 27-31 January 2020.