Long-term sickness can cause difficulties for a business of any size and can be an emotive situation. Having a comprehensive support system in place can help to manage these situations as compassionately and effectively as possible.
Research has shown that early intervention services (EIS), such as those offered as part of a group income protection plan, are key in not only helping employees return to work more successfully, but in helping to prevent some conditions that lead to long term absenteeism, and even mitigate the absence becoming a sustained time off work.
The key to successfully supporting employees is engaging services as early as possible in the absence. The longer the duration before support from EIS is provided, the less likely it is that an employee will successfully return to work. Our data shows that 84 per cent of employees return to work where support is provided after four to nine weeks of absence, compared to 62 per cent where support is not provided until after 13 to 18 weeks of absence.
MetLife UK provides EIS for our clients through our trusted partner, Health Claims Bureau, and as soon as we have been informed of the absence, we can put into action our early intervention services and produce a tailored plan of support.
In order to formulate a reasonable return to work plan, employers must understand the reasons for the absence; EIS can provide an impartial and confidential space for employees to discuss these sensitive issues. It is then important to identify any barriers to a return and determine what short-term and long-term support will be required to overcome these, where appropriate. Where additional treatment is needed, EIS can also include access to a range of public and private support services.
Whilst our message is that early notification is crucial to maximise chances of success, EIS can still be of value where implemented slightly later in the absence.
Consistent communication throughout the absence period is key. The longer an employee is on leave, the more disconnected they are likely to feel from the organisation and the working world in general. By waiting until a few weeks before the employee is due back to work to check in and make a plan, you run the risk of them feeling overwhelmed which may impact the success of the return or even delay it.
Regular check-ins can help to avoid this negative pattern, helping employees to remain part of their organisation and keep up their momentum and motivation to return to work.
Mental health issues are the highest cause of work absence amongst MetLife clients, making up 37 per cent of all sickness leave. These conditions are also a key cause of presenteeism, when employees may be physically present, but are unable to perform at full capacity. In the current environment, these conditions are becoming more prevalent and, therefore, it is more important than ever that employers make employees aware of the tools available to help them navigate through difficult periods.
By training a team of mental health first aiders, organisations increase their chances of spotting signs of mental health issues early. This can enable them to provide stay-at-work support. As this is difficult to provide during another period of remote working, businesses may also consider electing ‘home working mentors’ to provide additional support for those struggling.
Services like this can help to foster a culture of wellbeing which will hopefully prevent short term absence from progressing to long term, or even help to avoid it in the first place.
Looking at all of the cases we have seen, early intervention has been shown to help employees back to work as early as possible, with two-thirds of people returning before their absence turns into a claim. By keeping lines of communication open, organisations can work with employees to help them re-integrate into the workplace in a way that’s safe and sustainable.
Providing timely, holistic support as part of either a stay-at-work or return-to-work programme can not only lead to reduced absences, but can help to cultivate a healthier, happier workforce.