Absence Management

Topics: Occupational safety and health, Illness, Health care Pages: 25 (8853 words) Published: December 22, 2012
A b sence m an agem e nt an d t h e issu es
o f jo b r e t ent io n a n d r et u r n t o w ork

Strategies aimed at facilitating the job retention and return to work of sick and injured workers are currently the subject of growing attention. In this article the authors examine the nature and potential signi® cance of such strategies to absence management and utilise interview ® ndings to shed light on current employer policies and practices relating to the management of long-term absences. They conclude that at the national level a large proportion of working days lost through sickness absence stem from relatively long spells of absence and that the adoption of a proactive approach to supporting the return to work of ill and injured workers can have beneficial consequences. However, they further conclude that few organisations appear to have comprehensive arrangements in place to ha ndle cases of l o ng-term a bsence. A number o f a reas where p res ent e mployer arrangements could usefully be reviewed are therefore identi® ed. Contact: Philip James, Middlesex University Business School, The Burroughs, Hendon, London NW4 4BT. Email: p.james@mdx.ac.uk


ach year many thousands of w orkers leave their employment as a result of illness and injury. Yet little attention has been paid within the HRM literature to the policies and strategies that organisations can utilise to minimise the scale of such job loss. This is despite the fact t hat there is some evidence to suggest that employers can put in place arrangements that will serve to enhance the return to work and continued employm ent of workers suffering f rom potentially job-thre aten i n g medical conditions.

F u r t h e r m o re, t his l a ck o f at tentio n e xists a ga inst the b a ckgro u nd o f po licy developments and debates aimed at facilitating the job retention and return to work of sick and injured workers. At the level of the European Union, for example, the issue forms an important element in the debates that are taking place with re gard to how to i m p rove the employability of workers (European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, 2000). Meanwhile, at the domestic level, the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 places employers under a duty to provide reasonable adju stments to support t he continued employment of disabled workers ± a term that extends to include those who a re suffering from long-term ill health (Bru yere and James, 1997). In addition, the government is in the midst of investigating what initiatives and actions can be taken to reduce both absence and job loss stemming from long-term worker sickness (Lewis, 2000) and it has been proposed that the duty of employers to pre pa re a health and safety policy be amended to re qu ire them to `set out their approach to re ha bi li tati on’ (Health and Safety Commission/ Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, 2000).

These and other development s, such a s t he p ublication o f a TUC consultativ e document on rehabilitation at work (Trades Union Congress, 2000), can consequently be



Philip James, Ian Cunningham and Pauline Dibben

seen t o constitute a ttempt s t o broaden current employer perceptions and policies re garding the issues of labour turnover and the management o f longer term absence. These attempts are, however, occurring against the background of t hree marked gaps in the H R literature relating to t hese issues. As a resu lt, a t b oth the conceptual a nd empirical levels, their relevance and signi® cance remains rather unclear. The ® rst of these gaps concerns the relatively limited attention that has been paid to the role of ill health as a cause of workforce absence ± a situation that has been usefully highlighted, albeit indire ctly, by A l l e g ro and Veerman’s (1998) observation that `the ª classicalº o rganisational-psychological approaches of sickness absence, emphasising...
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