Sick note requests soar by 78%: how can you reduce absence?

Alan Price – Chief Operations Officer

August 03 2021

According to recent figures, requests for GP sick notes have soared by a huge 78 percent.

And shockingly, over half of those requests were due to poor mental health. With stress, anxiety, or depression behind 52 percent of these sick notes, it’s clear that the pandemic is still taking its toll on employees.

If your business is suffering from high staff absence, it could be time to revisit your sickness and mental health policies. And here’s how…

Be flexible on medical appointments 

What’s your policy on allowing staff to attend medical appointments?

When employees need to use annual leave to attend a check-up, they’d rather save their holiday allowance for something more enjoyable. And if you don’t allow appointments during work hours at all, staff could feel like they have no choice but to call in sick.

That means you’re losing out on an entire days’ worth of work – instead of just an hour or two. Plus, it means staff can give you more time to plan around their absence, instead of leaving you in the lurch on the day. 

So, create a flexible policy on medical appointments and share it with your staff. This should cover:

  • How many hours can staff book off per appointment?
  • Is there a limit on how many appointments staff can book?

It’s good to be flexible around those last-minute requests, too. If you ask for too much notice in advance, staff might still feel the need to call in sick to attend any urgent appointments. 

Plan a phased return to work

Returning to the workplace could be a huge factor in the recent rise in sick leave requests. As the government dropped work from home guidance, mental health appointments rose significantly.

Whether it’s anxiety over catching COVID-19 or dropping a better work-life balance, returning to work could harm an employee’s wellbeing.

To ease the mental strain, consider returning to the workplace on a gradual basis. This could mean asking staff to come into work for one or two days per week before returning full time, or allowing hybrid working.

Relax rules on remote work

When staff feel under the weather, the thought of heading into the workplace could make them feel worse.

It could be that your employee is suffering with a bad back or injury. While they feel capable of their work, they could feel much more at ease from the comfort of their own home.

And when it comes to mental health, the prospect of being in the workplace could mean staff feel worse. For example, if your employee is dealing with anxiety, the thought of being in a busy office space could worsen their condition.

Giving your workforce the freedom to work from home can take the pressure off. Why not try giving staff a maximum number of days to work remotely each week, month, or year?

So when employees feel more comfortable out of the office – for whatever reason – they can stay home without calling in sick.

Create a relaxed and positive environment

A toxic atmosphere at work could cause a high level of staff sickness. With mental health behind a large chunk of staff absences, you should take steps to reduce any workplace stress or negativity.

Here’s how you could improve your workplace environment:

  • Regularly check in to see whether staff are coping with their workload
  • Show employees you trust them and avoid frequent monitoring
  • Consider offering perks to boost mental wellbeing, like discounted gym membership
  • Improve workplace relationships with events and team-building

Hold back-to-work interviews

A back-to-work interview means you can check whether your employee is fit to return to work. But it also helps you understand why your employee called in sick, and whether you can do anything to help.

So if your employee called in sick due to mental health or any workplace-related discomfort, ask how you can support them at work.

Remember to be calm and non-confrontational during the conversation. If the interview is a relaxed chat, your employee is more likely to be honest and open about their absence.

Prepare for sick or mental health days

Sick days are inevitable. So instead of aiming for zero sick days, it makes sense to budget ahead for sickness absence.

Giving staff a set number of paid sick days can reduce any costly sick leave. While employees can’t book this time off as holiday, it’s there to act as a safety net for when they’re feeling physically or mentally unwell.

While it feels like you’re handing out free sick days, it’s the same as offering a slightly bigger holiday allowance.

And it means that, when staff call in sick, you can relax knowing you’ve already paid and prepared for it. 

Offer an employee assistance programme 

An Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) can slash mental health absence levels by a huge 45 percent. With access to an EAP, staff get confidential and expert support to help them overcome their personal issues.   

With the Peninsula EAP, your staff have access to:

  • A medical line with 24/7 helpline access to a trained nurse
  • Round-the-clock counselling with access to a 24/7 helpline
  • Face-to-face counselling with up to six in-person sessions a year
  • Online resources to help boost personal wellbeing

Discover how to reduce staff absence with an Employee Assistance Programme.

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