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Sickness Absence and Absence Management

Sickness Absence and Absence Management

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Sickness Absence and Absence Management

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  1. Sickness Absence and Absence Management Prof. Phil Taylor - University of Strathclyde 5 September 2012 Unite the Union – Financial Sector Change at Work Programme

  2. Structure • 1) Introduction – the ‘problem’ • 2) Analysing the statistics • 3) SAPs – change in policy and practice • 4) Employee experiences • 5) The impact of recession • 6) Union evidence • 7) Conclusion

  3. Introduction – ‘the problem’ • Enforcing time discipline on workers by employers is as old as the factory system and industrialism • Ensuring employee attendance is a central element in the establishment of workplace order • Workers’ broad acceptance of the duty to work and punctuality has to be continually remade • How to overcome the perceived tendency for workers to take ‘non-genuine’, ‘voluntary’ or ‘illegitimate’ absences • History shows ‘moral panics’ over absenteeism

  4. Managerial preoccupation with ‘problem’ of absence • Public discourse that malingering is endemic in ‘sick note Britain’, swinging the lead’ or ‘duvet days’ • Annual re-cycle – January and February media • Reports trumpet the cost to the UK economy • ‘At a direct cost of £17bn, absence remains a significant burden on the UK economy. Given the tight spending round, this is a particular concern in the public sector,whereabsence levels remain substantially higher than in the private sector’. CBI, 2011 • Glasgow City Council’s ‘war on sickies’ • ‘Efficiency savings’ – a hot post election issue

  5. Focus is on both: • - short-term absences – associated with ‘sickies’ + • - long-term sickness – statistically contributes most • Govt. reinforces sense of social malaise (Black) • Replacement of sicknotes by capability-focused fitnotes medical certificates – changed role of GPs • Organisations’ tightened sickness absence policies and practices (not necessarily the same thing) • Aim to reduce sickness absence to acceptable (i.e. negligible) levels • A raft of prescriptive measures introduced for when workers go sick plus metrics, scores and triggers

  6. Academic knowledge lagging behind developments • ‘Managers are also often reluctant to manage actively issues of individual attendance and work performance, not least because these issues involve the personal circumstances of individual workers. One might expect the control of attendance to increase in importance but the evidence suggest that the processes of monitoring and controlling attendance have changed little (Edwards, 2005) • From perspectives of employers, managers, employees, TUs the reality is now quite different

  7. Analysing the Statistics • Caution needs to be exercised when accepting uncritically headline absence figures • CIPD, CBI, LFS and WF vary in target population, respondent type, demography, timing • Some figures derived from small samples • Costs to industry are aggregate estimates • Even then many reports reveal minimal change • e.g. CBI : 1998 – 8.5 days per employee • : 2008 – 6.7 days per employee • : 2011 – 6.5 days per employee • Long-term sickness unchanged at 40% of ‘lost’ working time

  8. Analysis challenges rhetoric of sick-note Britain • e.g. CBI (2006) estimated only 12% of absence as ‘non-genuine’ • ‘Sickies’ linked to long weekends and sporting events is largely mythical (Barham & Begum, 2005) • Sickness absence evenly spread through week • CIPD’s annual survey since 2000 shows a ‘yo-yo’ trend – up followed by a down • LFS shows that sickness absence decreased between 2001 and 2010 • International comparisons do not prove UK excess

  9. CBI (2007) 8.1 days public - 5.9 private sector • LFS shows 3.1% public, 2.8% private • Yet HSE found that when adjustments made for age, gender, org size differences were modest • Also, presenteeism more prevalent amongst public sector workers, more likely to work when ill • Presenteeism – Work Foundation report (2010) • Preoccupation with business costs also open to critique - far greater costs to society • Short-term absence may indeed be a necessary coping mechanism (see Kivimaki, 2003)

  10. SAPs – Change in Policy and Practice • A key regulatory change was Statutory Sick Pay Act (1994) shifting burden from state to employer • Employers assuming these costs legitimised close management interest in controlling absence • Two main changes:- • Computerised monitoring of records provided a pseudo-scientific basis for analysis and action • Hitherto informal practices formalised into new policies and tightly prescribed procedures • From mid-1990s scores and trigger points • Bradford Factor – penalising short-term absence – criticised for denying legitimacy of any s-t absence

  11. Making sick employees fearful of disciplinary action causes stress, forcing premature RTW (Grinver and Singleton, 2000) • Raft of new procedures – RWIs ubiquitous • RWIs conflate caring and welfarist intentions with disciplinary motives • Emphasis on getting people back to work rather than – if occupationally related – the employment reasons why people got sick in the first place • Effectiveness of RWIs questionable –difference between orgs that have and don’t have them? • Presenteeism – encouraged by pressure to attend – may lead to greater productivity losses than absenteeism

  12. Relating sickness absence to disciplinary action may contradict and undermine parallel approaches focusing on rehabilitation, RTW, job security • Employers required to conform to certain legal protections • - unfair dismissal on the grounds of capability • Disability Discrimination Act • duty to make reasonable adjustments to sick pay schemes that place disabled persons at a disadvantage

  13. Employee Experiences • Data gathered over related projects for 15 years indicate tightened management control and increasing numbers attending work when ill • Have you ever come to work when ill? • ‘Often’ • 1995 – Ministry 7.7% • 1995 – FinCo 6.3% • 1996 - Gov1 7.6% • 1996 – Gov2 6.7% • 1996 – Gov3 9.8% • 2001-2 – Util 19.1% • 2005 – Emerg 18% • 2009 – Gov4 21%

  14. Reasons for coming to Work When Ill • Util Emerg Gov4 • Not ill enough to warrant staying off 54 67 47 • Backlogs, pressures of work 41 64 39 • Management/supervisor pressure 30 33 37 • Sickness absence policy 73 64 70 • Fear of disciplinary action 33 34 50 • Util Emerg Gov4 • Management are more interested in • statistics than the reasons people are 65 79 80 • sick • Many workers reporting a vicious circle

  15. I used to enjoy my job, but it has gone progressively downhill. I quite often feel physically sick about going to work, I’m constantly low or depressed and look for reasons to not attend work although I do actually go in...Management do not care and are not interested in anything the staff tell them and turn a blind eye thinking if the problem is ignored long enough it will go away (staffing situation is a classic example). Even though staff go off sick with work-related stress, their answer is to introduce new sickness policy and staff feel even worse. Once upon a time I would have considered my job as a good career prospect. I am now concerned for my health and well-being and consequently looking for another job (Female operator, aged 39)

  16. The Impact of Recession • Impact of recession has been to accelerate already existing tendencies • Further moves to cost-cutting • SAPs becoming more punitive and workers being progressed faster through stages • New Performance Management • Employees’ sickness absence used as a metric in appraisals, promotion, selection for redundancy • Problem for organisations is short-termism and counterproductive • Compounds illness and damages productivity

  17. Findings from Glasgow City Council • ‘Frontier of control’ reps (n=86) spend 15.5 hours each month on union activities, of which an average of 7.1 hours (46%) on sickness absence issues • 84% believed no. of sickness absence cases increased significantly between 2009 and 2010

  18. Union effectiveness

  19. Conclusion • Evidence that strict absence control has become embedded within organisations as an integral element of cost reduction strategies • All absences seen as illegitimate and need to be minimised • Policies and practices widely punitive • Is it possible to reconcile cost cutting with human and welfarist objectives? • Many examples of bad practice – what are the examples of best practice? • How should trade unions respond?