Buck Bond Group
Optimising workplace providers’ roles to support sickness absence management

Optimising workplace providers’ roles to support sickness absence management

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Employees’ wellbeing is supported by a variety of workplace providers, including private medical insurers, group risk insurers, digital GP services and commercial occupational health (OH) providers. As these providers broaden their propositions, we frequently see an overlap in their functions.  When it comes to best supporting sickness absence management, it is vital that employers are optimising their occupational health programmes, and ensuring that they work compatibly alongside other support services.

Corporate occupational health services are important for employers when there is a need to understand how health can impact work and productivity.  Health-related absences are a key component of this.  OH can provide employers with key information pertaining to absences, allowing them to be best managed.  This includes expected timescales, whether workplace adjustments are needed and how work might have negatively impacted the relevant employee’s health.  With OH support, return to work plans can then be developed most effectively.  The provider should have insights into job roles and have developed an open dialogue with the absent employee, assisting a clearly structured return to their role, with the necessary support in place.

Increasingly, group income protection insurers are offering similar support.  This therefore raises the question: how can these two providers can work together, to offer cohesive support for the employer and employee in absence case management?  In this scenario, it is important to understand how these providers’ roles differ, and can be combined to provide the most well-rounded support.

The income protection insurer will generally have a limited understanding of the specific job role, and will approach the case management from a more medical perspective.  They will provide a health assessment to help manage an employee’s absence, and provide health-specific assistance with a return to work.  OH providers will have more insights into the role itself, and how to structure a gradual return to all responsibilities.  Their medical involvement may be based on the employee self-reporting their symptoms and how these are impacting them.  Ways to align the two providers can include:

  • Roundtable discussions to ensure agreement on the required medical support for individual absence cases.  This collaborative approach can avoid conflicting information being given to the employee from different providers, and simplify the process so that the employee does not feel overwhelmed by communications from multiple sources.
  • Insurance support on delivering specific short-term treatment
  • Agreement on the timing of appropriate return to work plans
  • Ensure that employer sick pay policies are transparent to the employee, including provision of any financial wellbeing support, mitigating financial pressures
  • Alignment on signposting to other services eg the EAP or PMI schemes; this ensures the most straightforward access to medical assessment or longer-term treatment for employees (PMI).  It may also cover short-term support for an employee and their immediate family, often in response to a particular situation or event (EAP).
  • Group income protection insurers can provide toolkits and training for people managers and HR personnel, to provide clarity on sickness absence management procedures and ensure consistent messaging from all providers. With this baseline understanding and clear communication, absence management can be best approached from the outset.

Full awareness of the various support services available, including how they align and how to utilise each one in the most appropriate ways, can be extremely beneficial to the both the employee and employer in cases of sickness absence management.  By implementing employee and employer support, signposting and providing appropriate treatment and self-help toolkits, employee absence can be reduced or even prevented.  Where absence is necessary, the employee can be best supported in their absence and return to work, eased by both sides having clarity on how this will be structured.

While effective sickness absence management is important in terms of employee wellbeing, productivity and business outcomes, it is also significant when it comes to the relationship between employee and employer.  When the employee feels best supported throughout a period of illness or a difficult life event, the reciprocal relationship between them and their employer is strengthened.  In turn, this enhances your employee value proposition.  There are therefore numerous ways that employers can improve their outcomes by working to implement the most effective, multi-faceted sickness absence management.