Employers and their HR teams need to prepare to support their people. Research we conducted earlier this year found that 1 in 7 employees had been absent for four weeks or more in the past 12 months.
In November, Government statistics suggested there was a 1 in 18 risk of a person experiencing an absence lasting four weeks or more. But our results show that long-term absence can actually occur more often.
A 1 in 7 risk means the chances of needing to support employees suffering a long-term illness or injury is extremely likely for an SME, and for larger business, long-term illnesses could be a regular occurrence. It is therefore vital that HR teams are prepared and ready to support employees.
Not enough support
With the risk of long-term absence so high, it’s worrying to find that almost half of SME employees (48%) think they would lack employer support if they were off sick from work.
A quarter (25%) told us that they believe they would only receive the odd phone call from their employer if they were sick. And arguably more shockingly, a further 23% told us they think they wouldn’t receive any support at all.
An SME with seven employees is likely to have to deal with long term absence every year. So why do 21% believe their business is too small to worry about absence? In reality, the smaller the business, the bigger the impact long term absences will have.
As the risk of having a long term absence is actually much greater than an SME may think, providing support to employees should be more of a priority. It is therefore vital that employers begin to improve upon the support they have in place in order for these employees to recover well in the event of sickness, and return to work as soon as they are able to.
Employees may feel they are lacking support as 20% of employers admit they find providing the right personal support to an employee their biggest challenge. So how can employers access services that will help them to better support their people?
One option is Fit for Work, a service launched by the Government in 2010 to improve awareness of rehabilitation and workplace support. But Fit for Work only provides a basic level of support and HR professionals would benefit from seeking an in-depth consultation with their financial advisers to discuss products that can help them provide the return to work support employees need.
Income protection has a role to play in providing a solution. Recognised by the Government in the November 2016 green paper ‘Work, health and disability: improving lives’, the product provides access to specialist services that employers should be making the most of to help them deal with longer term absences.
Such services include access to appropriate healthcare supplied through case management services. Having the processes in place so that businesses can call on these specialists as and when they need them, can provide extremely valuable resources that support an employee’s wellbeing and return to work process.
With the likelihood of long term absence being high, employers need to take this whole issue more seriously, especially small firms. Recognising that this is a problem they are likely to face, and therefore being prepared to do so, will help them to provide the personal support when it is needed.