Managers 'must not shirk responsibility' for sickness absence

Line managers have key role to play in reducing absence

Employers that use a third party company to manage sickness absence run the risk of managers washing their hands of responsibility for the issue, an expert has warned.

David Frost, former director general of the British Chambers of Commerce and co-author of the Sickness Absence Review, said line managers are key to improving sickness absence levels.

Speaking at a conference on the Sickness Absence Review hosted by Cigna yesterday, Frost said that firms which use a third party to manage absence must ensure that this does not lead to line managers believing they have no role to play in improving absence.

He said: “What affects the success of a sickness absence management programme is the internal implementation.”

Frost stressed the importance of a good relationship between an employee and his or her line manager in keeping levels of sickness absence down.

He said: “A lot of stress-related problems are due to a breakdown in the relationship between an employee and their line manager, and in those cases there could be an opportunity to find that person another role within another company rather than have them drop out of the workforce altogether.”

Professor Stephen Bevan, director of the Centre for Workforce Effectiveness at The Work Foundation and also speaking at the debate, agreed with Frost’s view on the crucial role managers have to play in absence management.

Professor Bevan said: “My concern is that employers tend to deal with the symptoms of sickness absence rather than the cause. I don’t think that is a long-term solution.

“One of the big issues we face is the poor quality of management in UK organisations – this is a systemic risk for increasing employee absence.”

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