This week (11 January 2012) saw the official launch of the new Health for Work Adviceline (the Adviceline). This enhanced service continues to offer free telephone advice to businesses with particular emphasis on organisations with fewer than 250 employees who often feel the burden of sickness absence the hardest, particularly during this period of relative economic instability. Now, however, further services have been added, which means that the Adviceline now offers advice in three ways:
- Free telephone advice for employers on Freephone 0800 0 77 88 44.
- Self-service information through access to an extensive, intelligent, on-line knowledge base.
- On-line communication with a contact centre by submitting a question to the support team, or ‘chatting’ directly with a member of the team (a form of instant messaging).
The launch of this enhanced service follows the publication in November 2011 of the Government’s independent review of sickness absence (the Review) undertaken by health and business experts Dame Carol Black (expert adviser on health and work to the Department of Health) and David Frost (former Director General, British Chambers of Commerce). The Review found that all too often the sickness absence system pushes people away from work and that employers, especially those who do not have their own occupational health services, find it very hard to get independent, bespoke advice for more complex sickness cases.
Each year around 11 million employees in the UK take sick leave and, while most people return to work, around 300,000 people go on to claim health-related benefits. This costs the taxpayer £13bn a year and causes the country as a whole to miss out on £15bn in economic output. Overall, working-age ill health and sickness absence cost the UK economy more than £100 billion each year. The impact is particularly significant for small businesses for whom the cost of sickness absence is around £700 per employee per year (CIPD, 2010) – a substantial cost for small businesses to cover.
Building on the success of a pilot service, which provided over 2,000 one-to-one advice sessions and achieved a 98% satisfaction rate and over 4,000 website visits per month, the new Adviceline provides swift access to individually-tailored and free professional advice and guidance that aims to enhance business performance, increase productivity and improve staff morale. With this new service, managers in small businesses based in England can now access precisely the type of advice and support they told the Review they needed by getting help:
- finding the information and support they need to help an employee experiencing ill health;
- developing a plan to deal effectively and sympathetically with employee sickness absence;
- establishing how to manage similar problems in the future, should they occur;
- thinking differently about their business and the returns they will get from investment made in maintaining a healthy workplace.
By managing sickness absence more effectively at an organisational level and improving the health and wellbeing of employees, SMEs will also make a significant contribution to the health and wellbeing of the economy at a time when it is most needed.
“The Health for Work Adviceline provides managers in small and medium-sized businesses with access to high quality professional occupational health advice, getting employees back to health and back to work.” (Dame Carol Black – expert adviser on health and work to the Department of Health)
“The Health for Work Adviceline is a significant element of the Government’s plan to create healthier workplaces.
“It gives small and medium sized businesses access to professional and tailored occupational health information, advice and guidance. This means that employers can support the health of their employees to reduce incidents of sickness absence, help their timely return to work following mental or physical ill health absence, and help to reduce the numbers claiming sickness benefits.” (Lord Freud – Work and Pensions Minister)
“A healthy workforce is key to a successful, healthy business and this free Adviceline is good news for small businesses… Employers can now receive professional advice that is tailored to their needs, helping them to retain an employee’s services or assist them back to work sooner after a period of sickness absence.” (Sayeed Khan – Chief Medical Advisor for EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation)