Diet and fitness contribute less to public sector sickness absences than psychological and sociological issues, reveals PwC research
06/04/2009
Perhaps surprisingly, mental health-related illness absences are apparently not related to work intensity or relationships with managers.

Fuente:  www.consultant-news.com/    Fecha:  06.04.2009

Diet and fitness contribute less to public sector sickness absences than psychological and sociological issues, reveals PwC research

 Social habits and sleeping difficulties are more strongly linked to public sector employee sickness absence than diet or exercise habits, according to a PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC) review of four UK local authorities. Ease of seeing a doctor, community environment, quality of feedback and team sizes at work, together with local employment levels, are also important factors.

The Government currently sets targets for public sector organisations to encourage them to reduce absence levels. The research indicates that, while target-setting highlights health and wellbeing issues at work, these targets do not take other external issues shown to be apparent drivers of absence into account.

Ian Tomlinson-Roe, partner, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, said: “The Government’s public health campaigns have had a heavy focus on people’s eating and exercise habits but this research suggests there should be more focus on sociological, psychological and organisational issues - failure to address these factors could result in spiralling health issues that are bad for business.

“The good news is, while the research shows the causes of ill health and absences are complex, there are some real opportunities to reduce costs and disruption to services through early, preventative action in addition to the more usual ’reactive’ solutions.

“For example, team size and the number of years an employee has performed the role, together with quality of leadership and feedback, have all been associated with musculoskeletal absences, which can cost an average-sized council £2.5 million in annual salary costs alone. Action by organisations in these areas could have a significant impact on services and the bottom line.”

The common approach to dealing with high absence levels is often to focus on attendance management policies and procedures to ensure managers are equipped with the tools and skills to deal with employees and their return to work. Seeking to understand the factors that drive up the high levels of absence in the first place has been less common.

Key report findings include:

Diet and exercise
Although other research has shown the beneficial effects of diet and exercise on health, in this study there was no significant difference in the diet and exercise habits of those with low levels of absence compared to those with higher levels of absence. Of those respondents who had no absence in the year, 61% undertook a reasonable level of activity (30 minutes) three or more times a week while a similar number (64%) of those who had more than seven days of absence in the year undertook the same level of activity.

Hospital-related absences
People with long-term, hospital-related absences were more likely to report that they feel that they do not fit in with their local community. They were also more likely to be dissatisfied with their home and lifestyle. (Further research would be required to determine if these associations are a cause or an effect).

Of those respondents who did not take any time off for hospital appointments just 5.5% said they do not fit with their local community while a relatively small 6% are not happy with their home and lifestyle. These percentages more than double for those people with 100 or more hospital days - at 14.3% and 14%, respectively.

The direct cost of hospital related absences in an average sized council of 12,000 employees, that is experiencing high absence levels, could be in the region of £1.8 million per year.

Digestive disorder absences
People with more days of absence due to digestive disorders were less likely to be able to see a doctor within 48 hours and were more likely to have sleeping difficulties. High levels of absence due to digestive disorders also seemed to be related to levels of unemployment.

Of those respondents with no digestive disorder related days of absence, almost three quarters (71%) could usually see a doctor within 48 hours. Comparatively, of those with seven or more days of this kind of absence, just over half (56%) could usually see a doctor within the same timeframe. In addition, employees from communities with above average unemployment levels had more digestive disorder absence days compared to those who lived in areas with lower than average unemployment levels.

The direct cost of digestive disorder related absences to an average sized council of 12,000 employees, that is experiencing high absence levels, could be in the region of £0.6 million per year.

Musculoskeletal disorder absences
Investigating musculoskeletal-related absences revealed some interesting findings around team structure and management behaviour that could be used by organisations to implement programmes to control this type of absence. People with more occurrences of absence due to reported musculoskeletal disorders, such as back pain and repetitive strain injury, tended to work in larger teams and have a poorer quality of feedback from their manager. There was apparently no relationship between musculoskeletal related absences and whether people had received training in lifting, carrying and moving.

The average (median) team size of those respondents with no absence due to a reported musculoskeletal disorder was 14 – this compares with 53 for those with three or more occurrences. Of those with no absence, 70% were satisfied that their manager gives them regular constructive feedback – this falls to just a third (33%) for those with three or more musculoskeletal-related absences.

The direct cost of musculoskeletal disorder related absences to an average sized council of 12,000 employees, that is experiencing high absence levels, could be in the region of £2.5 million per year.

Mental health-related absences
Mental health-related absences, which are responsible for the most days lost to absence across the councils, was not predicted by any of the psychological, sociological or work-related factors examined during this study. Mental health-related absences were apparently unrelated to, for example, work intensity, experiences of threatening or intimidating behaviour at work or the quality of people’s relationship with their manager.

It is important to recognise many of the absence reasons in this report are self declared and therefore open to the influences of social stigma and what people deem to be acceptable reasons for absence. Additionally, while the predictors of obvious mental health disorders have not been uncovered during this research, the predictors of apparently physical disorders (such as digestive and musculoskeletal disorders) have been associated with possible psychological drivers.