Most working people probably have to take a day off sick every so often. Living in such a high-pressure world, it is hardly surprising that we all show signs of wear and tear.
But, bear in mind that the average employee takes 8.4 sick days a year – the equivalent of £426 a person, which translates into a cost of £10.2bn a year for UK businesses – and it is clear why absence management has become such an important corporate issue.
Based on the premise that a healthier workforce is usually a happier, more cost-effective workforce, many companies have introduced PMI as an integral part of their absence management strategy. Clinicare general manager Derry Andrews says: “Quite simply, it makes better business sense to get someone treated and back to their job as soon as possible, than have that person stuck on NHS waiting lists for months unable to work.”
But while this thinking is easily applicable to larger corporations, with their thousands of employees, occupational therapists and large discretionary spending budgets, what about smaller companies with staff numbers in the hundreds and fewer? Surely their need for quick access to healthcare is even greater – if a five-person sales company is without someone for a few months, that’s 20 per cent of its sales capacity lost.
PPP healthcare director of corporate healthcare development Dudley Lusted says that while he recognises this argument, he does not believe smaller companies see sickness absence as a major problem. “Statistics show that smaller organisations have relatively low sickness absence levels,” he says. “The average number of sick days people take at companies with fewer than 50 employees is five a year – 5.9 at companies with fewer than 200 – compared to the national average of 8.4. In terms of fewer short-term absences, I think it is a case of better morale and team spirit at smaller organisations. With longer-term sicknesses, it is down to numbers – if you have 100 staff rather than 1,000, you have 10 times less exposure to illness and injury.
“On this evidence, I would say the majority of smaller companies buy PMI as a staff perk rather than as an absence management tool. But this is probably because they have not had much absence experience. At a small organisation, you can go for years without having anyone off sick for a long period of time and it is perhaps not until you do that the absence management value of PMI becomes apparent.”
Quoting the fact that around half of smaller companies have to take on temporary staff if someone is away for over two weeks, Western Provident Association (WPA) communications director David Ashdown argues that sickness absence can have major ramifications for a smaller business. He says: “Most small organisations don’t want the whole spectrum of medical insurance benefits: they want basic health insurance for everyone and then to pick and choose specific aspects for specific people – overseas cover for people who travel abroad, for example. This is exactly what our flexible scheme allows them to do, as well as bringing premiums down.” Lusted is once again the dissenting voice on this subject. He believes that a comprehensive benefits package is always the best option and would prefer to see prices made more relevant depending on the level of a company’s use of services – the health equivalent of a no-claims bonus.
Product flexibility is also the key to CIGNA’s approach to absence management for smaller organisations. CIGNA spokesperson Lynda Hardy Maskell says: “Smaller companies can afford less protection for their staff than large corporations but, proportionally, need it more. The solution to this problem certainly isn’t an off-the-shelf generic product or a scaled-down version of something designed for a much larger company.”
CIGNA’s service gives employees fast-track access to advice and support from a qualified medical professional. “Essentially, the product allows people to take a short cut in the recovery process,” explains Maskell.
“It can also provide ongoing support for people away from work for longer periods of time and help mediate between employees and companies during the rehabilitation process.”
Faced with huge financial losses because of sickness absence, it would be assumed that most companies had at least some rudimentary absence management procedures in place. But while around 90 per cent of companies now record sickness absence figures, only around half that number calculate the financial implications – which suggests the message is not quite getting through as yet.
But, as no company, however large or small, can afford to lose money forever, it surely cannot be long before more take the simple step to safeguard the future health of both their employees and their bottom line.