Long-term Sickness Absence Increasing against the Overall Trend

Although annual sickness absence levels in the manufacturing sector have fallen by three million days since 2005 , over a third (36%) of firms report that long term sickness absence increased between 2007 and 2008.

The EEF/Unum 2009 Sickness Absence Survey shows that long-term sickness absence, where an employee has been off work for more than a month, has a substantial effect on UK industry as well as for the social welfare of the population.

The survey results identify ‘surgery or medical investigation or tests’ as the cause of almost 60% of all long-term absences, ahead of back problems (34%), cancer (26%) and stress (25%). In addition, of those employers who have seen an increase, 28% report that ‘waiting for appointment or diagnosis of illness’ is a barrier on the pathway to return to work and 25% cite ‘waiting for treatments or operations’.

Commenting, Professor Sayeed Khan, EEF Chief Medical Adviser said: The overall fall in sickness absence figures conceals a worrying trend – an ongoing issue with long-term absence. Employers can do a lot to address this through better management, but employers would benefit from faster access to NHS treatments and secondary care in order to have a chance of significantly improving absence levels.”

The research shows that only 28% satisfied of firms are satisfied with the current sick note system, whilst nearly half (45%) are dissatisfied with it.

Commenting, Professor Michael O’Donnell, Chief Medical Officer at Unum, said: “Dame Carol Black’s fit note will be a major step forward in addressing attitudes towards sickness and the sooner we can introduce it, the better. Changing the mindset and therefore attitudes is the critical first step in bringing about a real and effective change in approach by all parties. There is still a need for early intervention in the working population to prevent job loss and long-term absence from work”

Overall sickness absence in the sector now stands at 6.2 days per employee each year, down from 6.8 days per employee in 2007. 

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