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March 1, 2012

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Low take-up of Fit for Work services revealed

Both the volume and profile of individuals who engaged with a trial of services aimed at helping workers return to, or stay in, work, were not in line with expectations, according to an evaluation of the pilots’ first year in operation.

Conceived on the back of Dame Carol Black’s review of the health of the working-age population, the previous Government launched a trial of Fit for Work Services (FFWS) in March 2010. The services, which cover 11 diverse areas of Britain, provide personalised, case-managed support for workers in the early stages of sickness absence, or ill health in order to expedite a return to work and support job retention. All services provided clinical and non-clinical support.

Presenting its findings from the first year of the evaluation, a Government-commissioned consortium – including the likes of the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) and the National Institute of Economic and Social Research – said it is still unclear whether the pilots have been helping individuals get back to work quicker than they otherwise would have done, although qualitative evidence from interviews indicated that they had.

The report’s authors note that by providing a range of services to support employees, there is a danger that “they will wait until they have had their ‘treatment’ before returning to the workplace”. Conversely, they point out that when they do return to work, this may be “more sustained, if the issues causing or exacerbating the absence have been resolved”.

By the end of March 2011, 6726 people had taken up the services – about 40 per cent of the expected total. Nearly all clients were employed and two-thirds were workplace ‘presentees’ (still in work) rather than absentees, who were the original target group. One of the main reasons for the lower-than-expected take-up was the difficulties encountered in generating referrals from GPs and employers.

Most clients had either a mental-health condition, or a musculoskeletal disorder, with the majority suffering from more than one health condition. More than half of the clients had work-related concerns, such as lack of support at work, harassment and bullying, and a fear that they could not cope with work demands. Most thought their health condition had been made worse by work.

Some 62 per cent of clients who were supported in the first year had been discharged by the end of March 2011, and 74 per cent of these individuals were back at work by the time they left the service.

Commenting on the findings, Jim Hillage, director of research at the IES, said: “This kind of support is particularly useful for smaller businesses without the access to occupational health (OH) that larger organisations have. The interim evaluation shows that this kind of intervention has the potential to fill the gap between OH and the health service. The final evaluation report will assess the impact of the service on overall sickness absence and whether the benefits outweigh the cost.”

Seven pilots have received funding to continue to run for at least a second year. The final evaluation report will also examine the role of employers in assisting return to work and the issues the services face in helping employees negotiate their return.

The full report can be accessed at:

What makes us susceptible to burnout?

In this episode  of the Safety & Health Podcast, ‘Burnout, stress and being human’, Heather Beach is joined by Stacy Thomson to discuss burnout, perfectionism and how to deal with burnout as an individual, as management and as an organisation.

We provide an insight on how to tackle burnout and why mental health is such a taboo subject, particularly in the workplace.

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