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October 13, 2010

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Employees fear losing their jobs over sickness absence

A quarter of workers fears being sacked or earmarked for future redundancy if they take time off sick, according to a survey by the Chartered Society of Physiotherapists (CSP).

The group also found evidence of mistrust among employers, with three in ten managers believing staff who call in sick with a musculoskeletal problem are exaggerating their condition.

The survey also found that more than a third (35 per cent) of those surveyed find absences irritating because others have to take on additional workload, and 50 per cent of workers feel their bosses don’t care about their health.

Meanwhile, nearly two thirds (63 per cent) of small or medium-sized enterprises do not provide occupational-health services to staff.

The survey was carried out to inform a new report into the costs to employers of sickness absence. Called Sickness Costs, the report argues that UK employers are losing millions of pounds each year by failing to invest in the health and well-being of their staff, and highlights several organisations that are now reaping the benefits of such funding.
The CSP is concerned that the attitudes of some employers may stop staff seeking help for health problems that may be preventable.

It points to statistics from the Work Foundation showing that absences from work caused by MSDs alone cost society about £7.4 billion a year. Separate research by the Salisbury Centre for Mental Health shows a further £15 billion is lost through ‘presenteeism’, where staff are at work but perform below their full potential because they are unwell.

CSP chair Ann Green said: “The findings in our report should be of real concern to all of us, as they suggest a culture in which staff with genuine illness or injury are encouraged to work, rather than get appropriate treatment.

“As shown in the report, early access to physiotherapy is particularly effective in preventing musculoskeletal disorders from becoming a serious long-term problem. Employers need to encourage a more open culture so employees feel able to report sickness sooner.”

CSP chief executive Phil Gray added that cutting back on health and well-being initiatives amounted to a false economy, because “ignoring a recurring condition can potentially lead to lower productivity and high temporary staffing costs”.

Ben Willmott, senior public policy advisor for the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), backed the report’s findings and set them in the context of the Government’s current welfare-reform programme, which aims to reduce the number of people out of work and dependent on state benefits.

Said Willmott: “Early referral to occupational health and the availability of treatments, such as physiotherapy and counselling, can make the difference between someone staying at work and managing their condition, or going off on long-term sick leave and, in some circumstances, falling out of employment altogether.”

The CSP has also produced a leaflet called ‘Fitness Profits’, which provides advice for business of all sizes on how to keep staff healthy and improve productivity.

Sickness Costs can be downloaded 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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