By Max Clarke

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) today supports Government plans to conduct a review of sickness absence as part of its shake-up of the welfare reform system.

Ben Willmott, Senior Public Policy Adviser for the CIPD, commented: “We welcome the Government’s logical linking of its plans to restructure the welfare system with a review into sickness absence.”

The CIPD’s 2010 annual Absence Management survey, produced in partnership with Simplyhealth, finds the average level of absence is 7.7 days per employee per year, with nine out of ten employers saying absence is a significant cost to their business.

“The Prime Minister is absolutely right when he says that a short spell of sickness can far too easily become a gradual slide to a lifetime of benefit dependency, and we welcome the weight he is throwing behind efforts to solve this seemingly intractable problem.

“The current approach to sickness in the workplace and long-term benefit dependency has for too long been like a game of snakes and ladders, with too many snakes and not enough ladders. Employers, government, and voluntary and private sector providers need to work together to do more to stop people falling out of work for long periods, and more to provide the ladders out of the pit of unnecessarily prolonged health related worklessness. The Work Programme will be undermined if too many keep falling out of work to add to the ranks of the long-term unemployed.

“The review can help shine a light on some of the obstacles that prevent companies from supporting employee wellbeing and managing absence effectively. For example, only a minority of small firms provide access to occupational health services for their staff even though evidence suggests such services are the most effective means of helping people with health problems back to work.

“A key issue the review might usefully consider is the issue of encouraging early intervention and referral to specialist support such as counselling or physiotherapy services. The absence review can usefully tie-up with the recent announcement of £300m government support to increase access to talking therapies to ensure that employers understand the impact that counselling, such as cognitive behavioural therapy, can make.”