The most recent statistics from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that in any one year, more than 130 million days are lost because of sickness absence in the UK, and last year just over two million 16-64 year olds were long-term sick.
In January this year Group Risk Development (GRiD)* published research that showed that 23% of employees wouldn’t be able to financially support their families if they were off sick for six months or more. They supported this saying that ‘Given that average household spend is £517 a week, and savings are at just £20.80 a month, this highlights the importance of protecting income against long-term absence from work rather than relying on cutting back on daily spending.’ The Association of British Insurers (ABI) published statistics, at the end of last month, which they suggested showed that insurance plays a vital role in helping people cope with financially adverse situations brought about by such issues as serious illness; ‘making a real difference to people’s lives at some of the most difficult of times.’
Last year, Dentists’ Provident paid benefits to their member dentists of over £4.5 million, for days lost to illness or injury.
Reasons for sickness
In 2014, over a third of Dentists’ Provident claims paid were for musculoskeletal disorders and 17% for psychiatric disorders, commonly understood to be the largest areas for sickness absence amongst dentists. But these sickness reasons are not just confined to dentists, they are a universal problem. The ONS’s report ‘Sickness Absence in the Labour Market - 2014’, for the UK, reported that more days were lost to sickness absences due to back, neck and muscle pain than any other condition, with a total of 31 million days lost in 2013.
They also reported that ‘mental health problems such as stress, depression and anxiety also contributed to a significant number of days of work lost in 2013 at 15.2 million days.’ A YouGov survey of full-time UK workers, conducted in April, revealed that over half of respondents said they had suffered from ‘burn-out‘ or anxiety, and this peaked for workers aged 25 to 34. Many experts recommend meditation, the Alexander Technique, Pilates or yoga to help with the stresses of working life.
Occupational health support
The Department for Work & Pensions reported that only 10% of staff in smaller companies have access to an occupational health service, compared to over 50% in larger businesses.
At the end of last year, the Government launched a ‘Fit for Work’ scheme which aimed to fill any gaps in the current support. This includes a referral service, that went live in March, where GPs, and ultimately employers, will be able to refer employees for additional occupational health services, if they have been, or are likely to be, off sick for four weeks or more. This is set to be rolled out by the end of the year, and could help small businesses like dental practices, support their employees.
A third of employers in GRiD’s recent survey said they would be likely to use the new ‘Fit for Work’ government services to help members of their team with a health condition, to stay at, or get back to work. Nearly 20% of employers surveyed wanted the next government to take more action on staff wellbeing.
However, in other surveys, conducted this year, it was revealed that over three-quarters of employers, and over half of GPs, were unaware of this new ‘Fit for Work’ service, and less than a quarter of HR managers felt it would meet their occupational health needs, even though 70% were aware of the scheme. So it appears that it may need more promotion to aid awareness and explain the benefits.
So, it’s up to all of us as employers and team members to do what we can to minimise sick days with preventive health approaches, have appropriate sickness provisions in place, and be aware of new initiatives and services that can support us.
*GRiD (Group Risk Development) is the trade body for the group risk industry.