28 Aug 2007

Sick Copper Syndrome?

Lost your drive or feeling off colour? Always got that ‘Monday Morning Feeling’ no mater what day it is? Don’t worry you’re not alone! Organisations such as the CBI would have us believe the UK has ‘some of the highest sickness levels in any Western Civilisation’… Not so!

A major study found the British are ‘much less likely to take a sickie than workers in any of our major European Union competitor nations’ (Dr David Gimeno - University of Texas School of Public Health). The TUC puts the blame squarely at the feet of employers by saying; ‘to stop making us sick through bad jobs and overwork’ however, a comment such as this would be expected from a Trade Union organisation. HSE Guidance on the subject informs us (according to CBI 2005 statistics) that sickness absence costs UK Plc over £12 billion a year and employers £495 a year in direct costs for every worker employed. Indirect costs are probably considerably more. Obviously these are divided messages from opposite sides of the employment fence so what is the answer?

Finding the common denominator in sickness levels (perceived or actual) would be a good starting point. It’s not hard, more often than not high levels of sickness can be directly attributed to poor management.

Clare Hollett of Blue Sky Consulting prescribed a cure for managers, she said; ‘to make a real difference, businesses should focus on one vital ingredient: their managers’.

Managers devote huge amounts of energy and resources in an attempt to reduce sickness, often to no avail. They concentrate on the belief that, the employee is the one at fault a belief the worker is ‘swinging the lead’ or accusing them of lying are common traits. Never once do they look inwardly to see if they may be responsible. This considerable effort could be focused upon actually valuing their staff and providing a workplace where staff wanted to be because it is interesting and exciting. If staff are generally happier, morale is higher and sickness declines, Simple!

BBC: A study in 2006, carried out with the assistance of insurance firm Axa, showed absentee levels were a third higher in the public sector than in private outfits. Public sector staff took an average of 8.5 days a year off in the previous year and this was down from 8.9 days in 2002. The HSE Police site also proudly proclaims that; since 2002 the Police Service has dramatically reduced its sickness absence, by approximately 25%’. All the figures quoted point towards there being a more pronounced serious sickness problem in the public as opposed to the private sector.

Apparently public sector workers have less short-term but more long-term absence rates than the private sector. Public sector workers report long term sickness more for two reasons. First many companies don't allow long term sick leave - you get the sack. And secondly, some public sector workers (like the police) are more likely to be attacked or suffer stress because of their jobs. (Source TUC)

So what about the perceived ‘Sick Copper Syndrome’? There’s no such thing! What is far more likely is the fact managers in the private sector are more awake to the fundamental issues, they have to be or they’d get sacked! Perhaps police managers should adopt some private sector mentality? Even better, why not go the whole hog and sack incompetent police managers instead of promoting them as often occurs!

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